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AROUND THE BEND: Safety-conscious motor coach company instills pride, knows drivers by name

At Martz Trailways, there is asafety focus from the top down and constant, ongoing driver training. (The Trucker file photo)

By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff

6/7/2011

Talk to a trucking carrier whose CSA scores are good and you’ll likely find that even if it isn’t a family-run company — as in blood relatives — it is a family-type of organization in that management knows most if not all its drivers by name. A company in which dispatchers and upper management, alike, actually talk to drivers and care about their special needs, such as getting home to take a spouse to a cancer specialist or getting a driver home to see his mom who lives on the other side of the country.

It’s certainly true in the case of the two Canadian trucking firms who won the Truckload Carriers Association’s most recent safe carrier awards.

It’s also true of the safer bus companies because let’s face it, good safety culture is good safety culture, whether it’s at a trucking operation or a motor coach company.

And before you turn the page, let me point out that trucking might take a page or two out of Martz Trailways’ playbook.

Martz Trailways’ director of Safety, Michael Jordan, gave a talk last month at the National Transportation Safety Board’s hearing on truck and bus safety, and he told The Trucker later that two things that set his Wilkes-Barre, Pa., company apart are a safety focus from the top down and constant, ongoing driver training.

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I know. I know. You career drivers already know how to drive. I get it. But smooth your feathers down and hear me out, or hear Jordan out.

“This is a privately-held company that’s been in the same family for over 100 years,” he said. “We’re part of the Martz Group and the 11th largest in the U.S. We know 95 percent of our drivers by their first names; we make that a point, and we’re available to them. None of our drivers ever hears ‘what are you calling me with this nonsense for?’

“If it’s important to them it’s important to us. We’re proud of our drivers. They’re the face of Martz. They’re proud of wearing their safety awards on their uniforms. …”

Martz’ culture of safety begins with Frank Henry, chairman of the board of the Martz Group, and “permeates throughout the entire organization, from Pennsylvania to Florida,” said Jordan.

“Safety is a matter of individual behavior and we constantly train,” he said. “We never stop training; we train our drivers and everyone within the organization. Safety has to be a continuous, ongoing program. It’s not ‘now we’ve trained you and that’s that.’”

The moment a driver is hired “all of us on the management side meet with them in the classroom and say ‘here are our phone numbers; you can call us. Our doors are always open.’

“I just spoke to a New York City driver this morning who was concerned about his Hours of Service. He had a misunderstanding about the rules and now he’s squared away. We get back with them [drivers] in about one business day or sooner.”

Remedial training is used to correct any violation of safety policy with a minimum of four hours training or more, depending upon the seriousness of the infraction. And, Jordan said, the policy is applied the same way across the board. “It’s not arbitrary,” he said, stressing that all drivers are treated the same.

Drivers spend a minimum of 186 hours in training but if a recruit needs more time, they give it to them. “We don’t have a problem with the fact that everyone learns at their own pace,” Jordan noted, adding that there’s also 50 hours of actual on-road driver training. The other part of the teaching is done in a simulator that goes to the students via a state-of-the-art motor coach with an audio-visual system and a flat screen TV in its bulkhead.

Jordan likes to remind drivers and the public that “our cargo loads and unloads itself.”

And because of that, Martz spends an added $12,000 per coach to install passenger seatbelts and has been doing so since 2009.

Drivers also are trained in customer service, since they’re the ones who are in the public eye. “This makes us unique,” Jordan said. “One of the things we always say to them is that as part of the safety culture ‘you’re not transporting 55 people, you’re transporting 55 families. They’re all loved by their families. Treat them as if they’re honored guests coming into your home.

“In short, a motor coach driver has to be customer-driven. They’re the face and pride of our company and we convey that to them constantly.”

Martz backs up the talk by providing cash awards twice a year to drivers with no safety violations. The ones with 10 or more years of safe driving get a larger bonus and an extra paid day of vacation twice a year.

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Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at dlcox@thetrucker.com.