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Thomas Kritzer, Deputy Head of Metro Operations Division, Wiener Linien, Chairman of the UITP Security CommissionThomas Kritzer, Deputy Head, Metro Operations, Vienna Metro & Chair, UITP Security Commission

The perfect front-line employee – the role of staff in public transport security

The public transport sector’s core business is a delivery of service. Service stands first for transportation from one point to another, but – as every user will agree – it also includes many other aspects. A high quality service needs well-trained staff to support operations and customers. In the field of public transport security, staff play a major additional role – the presence of staff is one of the key factors for customer perception during their use of public transport networks.

What is the role of humans?

As security perception is more important for the user of a network than objective numbers or crime statistics, the ‘feeling’ of a secure surrounding is vital in public transport and staff, as a ‘human presence’, contributes to this. Even in our modern technological era the human is important for the human. The role of staff ranges from a contact point for travel information, customer service and beyond – and, concerning security, a guarantee for passengers that they are ‘not alone’ in a station or a vehicle.

Use of technology requires well-trained staff

Operators must recognise their customer’s demand for staff presence in their operational and Human Resources (HR) strategy. Concerning the operational configuration and facilities, the (very valuable) technological tools for supporting security issues have, over time, become more easily installable and accessible. Technology serves the operator to increase customer’s security – but it won’t work without humans. Staff are needed to use these tools and devices, like CCTV systems, analysis software, etc. in control rooms, live on-site and in analysis phases after incidents or during big events. Therefore, high-quality training for handling these tools is a necessity. Today, most of the tools are multi-functional, like CCTV systems, serving safety and security demands, and are becoming more and more complex. Therefore the user has to be well-trained and made an ‘expert’ for efficient usage. The best effect on public transport security is achieved when the so-called three pillars of security – humans (staff), technology and procedures – interact in fulfilling an operator’s security strategy. Procedures need to be established for humans to use technical devices in the most profitable way and to get the most out of the technical solutions available.

Challenge: the perfect front-line employee

An even more important challenge for the HR strategy and staff training is the ‘front-line’ work. The customer’s expectations on staff are high, and in highly frequented networks, can also be challenging – for example, real-time information and communication and the efficiency of reactions to incidents are essential for providing suitable security perception. The employee today – as an important ‘player’ for customer’s guidance and information on their journey – should have knowledge of the transport network and surroundings and also be well-trained on security issues and reactions to guarantee a safe and secure travel-experience. An employee (and also train or bus drivers) should be seen as the ‘ambassadors’ of the operating company. This is not different from other businesses, like tourism or retail. So the requirements for the recruiting procedures are also challenging – service-minded profiles must be developed whilst not forgetting security knowledge and adequate abilities to react on incidents and threats. Threats can also escalate to bomb threats or terroristic threats and need complex and well-considered reactions, carried out by staff. The service duty – especially on how to react to ‘every day’ security incidents with different challenges and sequences – has to be accurately trained for employees to be prepared in difficult situations. Major security incidents can often only be trained in model exercises or simulations, therefore thorough preparations are necessary to reach a high-quality training level. Computer-based training or simulations are important for security exercises. These major incidents also require good interaction with other stakeholders like the police and authorities – an important goal in such training exercises.

It is becoming more and more necessary for security staff to also serve and understand that customers have differing needs and therefore must be seen as a ‘one-stop-shop’ service. In times of budget-cuts and the economic crisis, finding adequate employees has been challenging for some, but it proves even more that the role of staff serving the customer for operational and security issues has to be very efficient. Experience has proved that it doesn’t matter if a company sources its own staff or whether private security staff is enforced. The most effective staff assignment that operates to a first-class service for the customer must be the target. Creativity and new ideas on effectiveness, plus a mix of technical solutions supporting staff, can help reach customer expectations.

Fulfilling customer demands

It is important to understand what the customer’s needs are. A public transport user expects fast, safe and secure travel. In their, often daily, use of systems – apart from punctual transport service – their feeling of being safe and secure is crucial. That means adequate infrastructure, clear lighting and architecture, cleanliness of stations, and the presence of real-time travel information are all vital elements. Security measures like CCTV or emergency devices are a common picture for the customer. But despite the deployment of machines, the customer still expects human interaction. The ‘customer’ is not a uniform group – their demands range from expecting efficient travel information, help and support for people with disabilities, and general operational support and having well-trained staff for security matters. Passengers today rate the ‘security feeling’ as one of the most important influences on their decision to use a public transport network. Security and service employees raise the customer’s perception in the network, and their presence is vital for contributing to a successful public transport system.