Pay a little, get back a lot. That’s the rationale behind Macon Transit Authority’s safety incentive program.
When the program started in mid-2009, the authority was paying $429,000 a year in insurance premiums, said Rick Jones, MTA’s general manager and CEO. That money came out of bus fares and taxpayer subsidies.
The transit authority budgeted $25,000 annually for incentive pay to encourage safety. Quarterly, all drivers who were not involved in preventable accidents get an extra 25 cents per hour, Jones said.
“We extended that to maintenance as well,” for months of work without injuries, he said.
Checks for that incentive pay were distributed at a Jan. 28 awards ceremony. And in 2011, MTA’s insurance premiums had declined to $209,000 a year, while ridership has increased and the authority has new, more valuable buses on the road -- a net annual savings of $195,000.
But the incentive program isn’t just about money. The transit authority also wanted to recognize and encourage drivers for efficiency and courtesy, Jones said. To that end, MTA names a “driver of the quarter,” and then a “driver of the year.”
The fourth-quarter winning driver, and just-named driver of the year for 2011, is Darrell Lester.
He’s been driving an MTA bus for nearly 13 years on the East Macon route, he said.
Lester drives the east Macon route, but he said Wednesday he’d like to transfer to west Macon -- drawing a mock-suspicious look from Diane Coach, Lester said he was surprised and gratified to be chosen as driver of the year and that it didn’t come through any change in how he’s worked for years.
“I wouldn’t say that I did anything I don’t normally do every day,” he said. “I like listening to people. Mom, dad, doctor, counselor -- you have to be all of that.”
Diane Coach, who drives the west Macon route, was driver of the quarter for the first three months of 2011.
She’s worked for MTA for eight years, and like Lester, she just tries to do a good job. Winning driver of the quarter for the first part of 2011 surprised her, she said.
Patricia Perry, named driver of the quarter for April through June of 2011, said the incentive program has boosted employee morale and spurred competition to be the best.
But she too said she did nothing out of her ordinary routine.
“Just drive safe, get the passengers from point A to point B,” Perry said.
Perry has driven the east Macon route for seven years but has driven commercially for much longer.
“Before I came here, I was driving an 18-wheeler,” she said.
Vernon Franklin was driver of the quarter for July through September. He drives the Macon Mall route as he has for three years. Like Perry, he’s a former truck driver, and he also drives his church bus, he said. And like all three other award-winners, Franklin didn’t present his service as a departure from routine.
“I’m not going to say I did anything particular, anything special,” he said. “I just be myself. I enjoy driving, I enjoy people -- just talking to them.”
The safety program does make drivers more aware of how they deal with passengers, prompting them to think more about how they’d want to be treated themselves, Franklin said.
“All of us want to be driver of the year,” he said.
The incentive system’s results just brought MTA praise from another quarter: the “Lighthouse Beam Safety Award” from BB&T Insurance Services. Jim Bass, vice president of BB&T Insurance Services, said getting that award requires a commitment to safety and solid results.
“Basically to qualify for that award, your losses have to be 10 percent below the industry average,” he said. “It’s a very tough standard to meet.”
This year he only gave out two in all of south and Middle Georgia, Bass said.
To qualify for the quarterly award, drivers must have worked for MTA for at least two years, according to the policy. Any at-fault accidents or disciplinary action puts drivers “completely out” of the running for that quarter, said Jade Daniels, MTA operations manager. Good attendance, lack of customer complaints and any customer compliments all bring drivers points, the policy says. Whoever accumulates the most points overall becomes driver of the year.
MTA now employs 45 drivers and has about 76 employees overall, Daniels said.
The flip side of the incentive program was establishment of better accident tracking and disciplinary consequences, Jones said.
The new policy sets three categories for at-fault accidents of increasing severity. Bumps without injury and damage up to $5,000 draw warnings up to three times in two years, with more severe action for additional incidents, according to the policy manual. Damage up to $10,000 or minor injuries draws first a warning, suspension for a second, and firing for a third incident in two years.
An accident costing more than $10,000, or causing serious injury, can bring firing or suspension for a first occurrence, and a definite firing if there’s a second.
Drivers aren’t penalized for accidents that weren’t their fault.
“We have no control over who runs into the back of us, but several do it every year,” Daniels said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.