How to gain drivers’ acceptance for the implementation of eco-driving solutions in road public transport

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Eco-driving solutions are becoming a must for bus operators to efficiently manage their fleet of vehicles. This is particularly pertinent given the ongoing, rapid integration of electric buses, for which smooth driving is crucial to guarantee acceptable vehicle ranges and battery lifetime. Eco-driving solutions allow bus operators to monitor, evaluate and then improve the performance of their drivers and their whole operations (vehicles, lines…). The main benefits are substantially reducing energy consumption and increasing safety of the fleet. But it also reduces driver stress, increasing comfort of drivers and passengers, and even increasing the commercial speed.

A key aspect for the success of any eco-driving solution in road public transport is to gain the drivers’ acceptance. We cannot say this often enough or loudly enough: without the acceptance of drivers, never mind how good your technology is, it will most probably not succeed in bringing about the advantages you are implementing it for. In case there is any doubt, acceptance in this context means preventing drivers and their unions from opposing monitored and evaluated operations. Also, to get the drivers actually follow the recommendations given by the solution. At higher levels of acceptance, drivers might even proactively engage with the solution, proposing improvements or participating in gamification-based reward programs.

In order to achieve drivers’ acceptance, the most important is to put them in the centre of the project. Ultimately, they are the ones who we hope will enable improvements by using the solution daily. Drivers might be concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on climate change. They might also be aware of the increasing costs of energy for the company. But for most drivers, the fear of being monitored and potentially punished, by far exceeds their environmental consciousness or commitment with the company. Even those drivers willing to make a difference and more prone to continuously improve themselves, might oppose the introduction of a new eco-driving solution based on the fear of being unfairly evaluated when compared to their colleagues.

Hence, by building the project on the real benefits for the drivers, you maximise the chances of drivers accepting the solution. You need to put yourself in the position of a driver and ask yourself how this new solution is going to impact his or her job; how it is going to benefit them.

Following, we give you 7 recommendations how to gain the drivers’ acceptance when implementing a new eco-driving solution in road public transport:

  1. Fair evaluation of the driving performance
  2. Early communication with drivers and unions
  3. Focus on the advantages for drivers
  4. Guarantee privacy
  5. Involve your best drivers first
  6. Let drivers give their opinion
  7. Consider deploying a reward program

1. Fair evaluation of the driving performance

This is probably the most important of all recommendations. It is based upon one obvious fact, which is nevertheless too often forgotten: the driving conditions have a huge impact on the driving performance. It is not the same to drive a 12 metres and 15 tonnes vehicle in low traffic conditions, than to do so during rush hour. It is also not the same to drive a mostly flat line, than a line on a hilly terrain with continuous ups and downs.

The same applies for the vehicle model, the number of passengers and even the weather conditions. All these factors impact on how efficient a driver can be and need to be considered to provide a fair evaluation of his or her performance. Most eco-driving solutions do not take into account the context and end up frustrating drivers with good will to actually improve themselves.

2. Early communication with drivers and unions

Prior to involving the drivers, it is a best practice to perform an initial assessment of the whole operations to define baselines and realistic energy and safety targets, as well as other potential improvements at line or vehicle levels.

Once this has been performed and having identified the adequate strategy, deployment plan and tools, communicate openly about it with drivers and unions. Do not give them the feeling that you are trying to hide it from them. They could become suspicious and distrustful. If this happens, any posterior attempt to gain their acceptance will probably encounter a higher resistance.

3. Focus on the advantages for drivers

When you communicate with drivers and unions about the new solution to be implemented, do so from the perspective of drivers. A key aspect at this point is to emphasise the fair and non-punishing nature of the project. Clearly, any new project having as a final goal the identification and punishment of the worst performing drivers will encounter a high resistance among them and among unions.

To gain drivers’ acceptance, the goal of the project should rather be making their daily life easier. Make sure this is the central message in your communication. Focus on how the new eco-driving solution will help reduce dangerous manoeuvres and accidents, hence reducing stressful situations for drivers. Focus on how drivers will be able to continuously improve themselves and be recognised for it. Focus on the necessity to make an extra effort as a local reference in sustainable transport to reduce even more the greenhouse gas emissions in the city.

Finally, focus on the potential to increase commercial speed while at the same time reducing energy consumption and improving passenger comfort.

4. Guarantee privacy

Unless drivers decide otherwise, the new solution should guarantee that drivers’ identity stays anonymous. What is especially critical is to avoid that drivers get to see each other’s performance. To know that they are among the top performers, or that they have been able to climb to a higher position in the ranking, can definitely motivate drivers. Getting to know exactly who is above or below them in the ranking is a more sensitive issue, as it could potentially spark personal conflicts among them.

In a more advanced stage in the implementation of the eco-driving solution, it is absolutely possible to deploy a friendly competition where drivers openly compete against each other to get rewarded. But before getting there, drivers need to be very confident about the fairness and non-punishing nature of the whole initiative.

5. Involve your best drivers first

Involve your best drivers first and the middle managers that are in close contact with them, then go step by step: when deploying an eco-driving solution, start involving drivers with an above-average performance. Also, drivers you know are committed with your sustainability goals and drivers who are respected and well connected among other drivers. They should help you validate the advantages of the solution and disseminate the message among their colleagues.

Do not be in a hurry trying to implement the solution across the whole staff and fleet. In the long term, you will gain time and save efforts by going step by step adding drivers, lines and vehicles where you expect the lowest resistance and the highest benefit.

6. Let drivers give their opinion

Any project needs to be readjusted, especially in its early stages. Let drivers participate in the implementation process by allowing them to give their feedback and propose improvements.

The benefits of this approach can be huge, not only because drivers will feel more committed with the project, also and most of all because their feedback is probably the most precious piece of information you will get to correctly readjust the implementation process. At the end, they are the driving experts and the ones who know best how to improve their driving performance.

7. Consider deploying a reward program

It is always a good idea to reward your drivers for the efforts they make. Rewards can go from perks to bonuses to free days. Certificates and diplomas showing the achieved good performance can also be an effective tool. Then, there are many approaches to deploy rewards programs, from the simpler to the more advanced ones.

Drivers can be rewarded based simply on their monthly performance and improvements. In a more advanced stage, a friendly competition based on gamification can be deployed.

We always recommend starting with the simplest approach and scaling up the complexity and reach of the reward program with time. Also making sure that all drivers, including the worst performing ones, can be recognised somehow for their improvements. Is not about telling your best drivers once an again how good they are, but rather about motivating everyone to become a bit better every day.

Conclusion

As you can see, gaining the drivers’ acceptance takes the bus operator to thoroughly consider a few aspects before actually starting the deployment of an eco-driving solution. Doing that is definitely worthwhile. In fact, we are convinced that the reason why most eco-driving solutions do actually not achieve the expected outcomes, especially in the long term, is because they are implemented focusing solely on the benefits for the company.

Next time you hear someone complaining about a non-performing eco-driving solution, remember the famous phrase:

“It’s the economy, stupid”

James Carville

Mr. Carville was trying to convince Bill Clinton to focus on what really matters, the economy. Well, in our business we should just exchange “the economy” by “the drivers”. They are the operators’ main productive force and we should be ready to make all efforts and use the proper products to gain their favour (or at least to avoid gaining their opposition).

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