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The Keolis Safety Culture Brings Global Expertise and Experience to U.S. Public Transit Agencies

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Providing a transit as a safe mobility option for passengers is one of the key requirements for transit providers around the world. Though many different safety standards exist globally, laws, regulations, and policies and procedures provide guidance for transit operators in the United States. But how each agency manages their safety system can vary – size, budgets, and local regulations may all contribute to how public transit agencies (PTAs) integrate federal safety measures into the operations of their systems.

Tellis Chandler, Vice President of safety for Keolis North America's transit operations, oversees the safety, security, and emergency management functions at eight Keolis properties in the U.S. Chandler has an impressive record of managing and implementing transit safety; prior to joining Keolis in 2021, he served as Chief Safety Officer for the LYNX bus system in Orlando, Florida, and as Director of Operations for GoTriangle in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area near Raleigh.

With Keolis, Chandler focuses on building Keolis’ safety culture, increasing safety performance in operations, and overseeing the Safety Management System (SMS).

To further illustrate the strength of the Keolis Safety Culture, Chandler answered a few questions about how safety is integrated into every Keolis PTA.

Q: What is the Keolis Safety Culture?

A: The Keolis Safety Culture is one that is driven by our Safety Management Systems (SMSs) and the integration of safety and operations into the day-to-day service that PTAs provide. For us, safety is at the root of everything we do, and it informs how we perform in operations, maintenance, human resources, risk management, legal, and every aspect of the service. In addition, that safety culture has as much to do with training employees to operate buses in a safe manner as it does with making them situationally aware of outside forces such as other drivers, weather conditions, etc. There are no silos – our SMS is utilized across the organization so that every PTA has the resources and support they need to create their own safety culture.

Q: What is a Safety Management System and why is it important?

A: Federal regulations require that agencies create an SMS that is scalable so that it can be implemented throughout the agency. We have created an SMS for Keolis that is designed to be customizable and scalable for each property, but also upholds these four pillars: non-punitive reporting which ensures that issues can be reported without the employee fearing retribution from management, hazard recognition trains employees to be on the lookout for potentially unsafe situations, risk analysis looks at events or behaviors that may have potentially negative impacts, and procedures which are the framework for policies, operating processes, and nearly every other aspect of building an SMS.

Q: Can you give some examples of why procedures are so important in SMS?

A: Keolis just implemented an updated event management procedure that deals with risk analysis, accident investigation, and incident notification, and our drug and alcohol compliance procedure where we incorporate key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure we are doing what we are supposed to be doing in terms of federal compliance.

One of our top priorities is to address any issues with claims. We are currently working with the risk department to complete a policy for workers' compensation so that when a rare incident does occur, we have a process and procedure in place to make sure workers get all the medical help they need to enable them to get back to work as soon as possible. We should be rolling that out by mid-April. It covers light duty, transitional work, medical provider engagement, and employee engagement.

Also, our video-based technology procedure uses technology as a tool to prevent accidents by examining potentially risky behaviors by employees. On-board drive cameras, and a G-force unit measure inertia, hard braking, and speed. Our technology can even see if employees are wearing seat belts – it basically looks to identify risky behaviors before an event occurs. The goal of drive cams is to deal with any risky behavior before it turns into a major event. Though we have an overall Keolis procedure for the cams, each site is responsible for looking at the data from this system and making sure they are addressing the operators and coaching them about the behaviors to avoid repeat incidences.

Q: How does Keolis help employees implement safety, security, and emergency management procedures at the public transit agency level?

A: One of the most important ways we help employees is by creating a way to implement our procedures as they relate to the specific partner agency or client – not all of them operate the same because of resources, staff size, and other factors. So, one of our KPIs for the video-based technology procedure is performance coaching. The drive cam uses the technology to be proactive to prevent an incident before it happens – this is done by recording data from the camera and the G-force unit. All operations employees get a report card that shows them how they perform on the drive cam, how they are performing with customer service, and also with incidents. Managers are required to have conversations with operators on an ongoing basis to help them improve those numbers through coaching, mentoring, and training. Performance coaching is meant to help employees learn and modify their behavior so that we can retain the talent rather than resorting to disciplinary action - this is good for employees, our partners, and our passengers. 

The future goal is to use drive cam as a means of pushing out positive reinforcement – how to use drive cam to encourage employees to continue down the right path. The safety-side coordinates with the operations side to make sure they are performing that work and correctly carrying out the policies and procedures in the field.

Q: How does Keolis maintain safety standards throughout the PTAs?

A: Each year we go out to each client site and conduct a corporate audit to ensure they are adhering to the terms of our contract, as well as procedures and standards. We have recently made this process more in-depth, going from about 150 questions in past years to now having around 300 questions on the audit – this lets us go beyond scratching the surface and taking a deeper look. I also wanted to go a bit more into operations and maintenance and see how those two processes merge together as it relates to safety. From that, we discovered issues that needed to be addressed from a continuous improvement perspective.

As a result, we revamped all the OSAH Compliance processes and are revisiting the basics as it relates to compliance – this helps us find opportunities to move beyond just compliance and begin to exceed OSHA parameters by training employees to have a different mindset. The goal is not to teach them everything in the OSHA standards, but to show them what a hazard is, how to recognize it, and how to communicate it to a supervisor so it can be immediately addressed through our corrective action process. This approach will be rolled out throughout each of our properties to help maintain those safety standards created at the corporate level.

We have also been working to help incorporate these standards because even though we are creating the policies and procedures at Keolis, general managers at the PTAs are ultimately responsible for safety, security, and emergency management at the sites. I meet with the GMs, operators, and the maintenance team, to make sure those connections are being made – whether through KPIs, corrective action plans, or just face-to-face conversations with GMs and staff. I set up the policy and provide a framework for each property to customize it based on their operations and I provide guidance on making sure all areas of the policy or procedure are being addressed and that they fit within the overall safety culture at Keolis.

Q: What benefit does a PTA have engaging the safety experts versus trying to keep it in the agency?

A: Because Keolis is performing the safety analysis, we can provide PTAs with real-time data on potential hazards and help them to prioritize the issues in terms of severity so that the most critical aspects can be addressed. Keolis provides them with the expertise and our perspective on SMS integration as well as the data needed to support implementation. This is a data-driven process – we take out biases, political views, and emotions, and we purely go by data.

Keolis brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field of safety, security, and emergency management. That is important because sometimes PTAs may not have the resources or they may not have the funds allocated to support a full-time staff position that concentrates on transportation safety, OSHA compliance, claims avoidance, or other issues.

Hiring Keolis gives the PTA a transportation provider and a safety consultant together in a single source.

Safety, security, and emergency management will continue to be issues that are vital to the traveling public, especially for those using public transportation. Establishing an SMS with policies and procedures that protect passengers – and can also be implemented and integrated into diverse operations within PTAs – creates a safety culture that helps build confidence, trust, and reliability.

Contact Keolis to learn how we can help bring our safety culture into your agency.