The National Academies

TCRP F-17 [Final]

Improving Transit Bus Operator Health, Wellness, and Retention

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
Research Agency: Transportation Learning Center
Principal Investigator: Robin Gillespie
Effective Date: 10/13/2011
Completion Date: 11/30/2013

Transit bus operators work in a challenging environment that can lead to negative health outcomes for transit operators and high costs for transit agencies due to health care costs, absenteeism, high levels of turnover, and workers’ compensation payments.  Organized labor leaders and transit managers agree that worker retention and career longevity are of paramount importance. In recent years, transit agencies and organized labor have created joint labor-management teams to identify and address operating issues related to operator health and stress in a number of locations. A number of transit agencies and organized labor have worked together in the United States and Canada to develop programs to reduce operator stress, improve operator health, and address agency health-related cost impacts. For example, one transit agency recently worked together with its bargaining unit to address the causes of very high turnover rate among newly hired operators. Their joint investigation determined that split shifts, being on-call for open-ended time periods, assignment to unfamiliar routes on each new shift, and time on the extra board all contributed to turnover. New scheduling was introduced, and this approach increased worker retention, morale, and productivity. 
Similarly, another transit agency and its union worked together to design a bus operator program that included upgraded operator training and work scheduling improvements. Its goal was to reduce stress; improve operators’ health; improve customer service and community relations; and lower agency costs due to turnover, absenteeism, health care premiums, and workers’ compensation. 
TCRP Synthesis 52: Transit Operator Health and Wellness Programs, identified many of the common health problems experienced by transit bus operators. The study outlined the causal effects of the work environment on the worker and suggested preventative measures for the individual operators. Beyond TCRP Synthesis 52, there is anecdotal evidence that these programs have been effective in reducing absenteeism, workers’ compensation costs, and health care premiums. However, little attention has been given to substantive health and wellness program evaluation. Research is needed to: (1) assess the broad array of health and wellness programs throughout United States and Canada; (2) evaluate the degree of quantifiable success; (3) establish the return on investment when  health and wellness programs have been implemented; (4) develop best practice guidelines; and (5) develop industry tools.

The objective of this research was to develop best practice guidelines and industry tools (including a cost and benefit template) to address some of the health and safety issues common throughout the transit industry. The best practice guidelines and tools are expected to be used by senior managers, operations managers, organized labor, safety officials, medical personnel, risk managers, human resource personnel, policymakers, and legal advisors.

STATUSThis research was published in August 2014 as TCRP Report 169, Developing Best-Practice Guidelines for Improving Bus Operator Health and Retention.

The publication consists of two parts, (1) A Transit Workplace Health Protection and Promotion Practitioner’s Guide, and (2) the Final Research Report.


TCRP Report 169, Developing Best-Practice Guidelines for Improving Bus Operator Health and Retention, is available for download from the TRB Website.

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