Public transit, Seon, bus driver training

The Bus Operator Toolbox: Conflict Resolution and Communication Strategies That Can Save Lives (Part 1)

When we launched our Stop Violence Against Drivers campaign, many customers mentioned the importance of good bus driver training to help prevent on-board assaults. Today we have a very special guest on our blog – Bill Parsons, a recognized expert and trainer in personal safety, self-defense, and tactical communication, as well as the founder of the training company Roadworthy Communication. Bill is a former Dayton Police Officer who has survived dozens of high-risk encounters over his 26-year service career. As a Certified Personal Protection Specialist, he protected former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and other high profile corporate executives and VIPs. In the interview with Seon, Bill talks about challenges in bus driver training and shares the best de-escalation techniques for prevention of on-board assaults.

Bill Parsons, Roadworthy Communications, Seon, bus cameras, bus driver training, public transit

Bill, you have been coaching and training transit operators for over 20 years. What is, in your opinion, the biggest challenge for your clients when it comes to bus driver training? What do you focus on when coaching transit operators?

Let me begin by saying that most of the transit operators I have trained over the years have been very open to the training, because they know the tools and techniques in my program are street-tested, designed to increase their personal safety, practical, and work in real life.

With that said, I think that getting the drivers to understand what they do is important work that impacts people’s lives and the way they communicate with their passengers has a huge impact on not only their personal safety, but job satisfaction, customer service, and organizational perception.

So I focus on getting the operators to see that they have the power to choose their mindset and attitude towards service to others, and that this choice impacts how they are perceived and treated.  The decisions they make either enhance or lessen their ability to communicate in a powerful and effective way.

In Roadworthy Communication courses, you emphasize the importance of conflict avoidance. Can you share some insight and strategies for assault prevention that can be implemented by our readers?

The Road Worthy Communication Program is designed to be a comprehensive communication, safety, and customer service program all rolled into one. These three areas dovetail together very effectively, particularly for transit employees who deal with a very diverse customer base and face unique challenges every day. The Program gives the operator an effective set of tools to mitigate conflict and manage it when it arises by influencing the decisions that riders make in very subtle but noticeable ways.

The training is based on the Pareto 80/20 principle that governs our lives. 80 to 90% of the people on the bus are the same people operators deal with every day. By building rapport with this 80%, bus drivers will have overall passenger support when they need it.

So I teach the operators a series of communication strategies. One of them is The Similarity Accelerator which shows them how to seek, spot, and accent similarities to build rapport and trust with the customer (usually, a passenger). Another good strategy is The Noticing Game – learning to focus on others, not yourself, and spotting what is important to them. By using these two techniques the operator builds a foundation of trust and support with riders.

The increased awareness which these strategies foster is a key to personal safety, allowing the operator to have good situational awareness and be in mindset “Code Yellow”: alert for a non-specific threat, thus giving them valuable time to spot potential risk and avoid it, or formulate options for effectively dealing with it.

Speaking about potential risk, it brings up the question of driver motivation and fear. What can be done to help operators overcome psychological barriers and use the techniques that they learned?

The techniques and tools I teach are as I like to say “street-tested”: after twenty-six years of using them day in and day out on the street as an inner city metropolitan police officer I selected only those that were tested and worked in actual critical incidents. I have also taught these strategies to thousands of police officers, correction officers, private security professionals, EMS personnel, and transit professionals, and the feedback I got also helped to select the best tools for training.

The operators clearly see the parallel between what I did as a police officer and what they do every day. They deal with the same risky people I did – individuals who are intoxicated, high, dealing with mental issues, or just plain criminal elements. Through sharing real life stories and encounters, they quickly see how these tools will work for them.

I have hundreds of occasions where operators will say “I wish I would have known this a few months ago” or directly relate how they inadvertently stumbled onto and used a technique I have just taught them to save the day. In addition, we discuss how fear affects the body and mind and how to manage it effectively using the following techniques:

– 4×4 breathing

– Combat Communication

– Survival why & survival switch

– Combat Focus

– Imagery

Can you share with us some examples when your clients successfully implemented conflict prevention strategies and avoided assaults on the bus?

I had an operator use a technique I teach on breaking and interrupting patterns one day when two belligerent young men got on his bus playing their radio too loudly. Now you have to get a clear mental picture of this operator who is an elderly gentleman about 5’6” tall and a little on the pudgy side with a ring of white hair atop his head and a white walrus-like mustache. As the two riders stepped on to the bus he said, “If you guys don’t turn that music down, I am gonna have to start break dancing.” They immediately stopped, looked at him in a startled way, laughed and said, “Man your crazy”, but they turned down the music as a result of that exchange. Now he has lasting rapport with two former troublemakers who since then have aided him in dealing with other disorderly passengers.

End of Part 1 of the interview. Read Part 2 here

You can learn more about the training at where you can also request a free copy of the Road Worthy Communication book, which outlines the techniques discussed.

You can also contact Bill Parsons at

To learn more about Seon’s program “Stop Violence Agains Drivers” and get more great free resources like this, visit /safetransit


Vlada Terenina
Marketing Coordinator | Seon

Vlada Terenina, Seon


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