Illustration of Keolis' "Driver eXperience" study
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Driver eXperience: What's behind the driver's job?

Illustration of Keolis' "Driver eXperience" study
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PostedFEB. 6, 2024
Words bySofia Escamilla
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Improving drivers’ working conditions is a major challenge in the stiff competition for talent. To this end, Keolis launched a behavioral study called “Driver eXperience” to learn more about how drivers view their daily tasks and offer solutions to limit drivers' cognitive overload.

For the past few years, the transportation sector has faced a pronounced shortage of drivers in France and around the world. This shortage not only affects service quality and travel conditions but also regional mobility policies, which are a major concern for public transport authorities.

So then, why has it become so difficult to recruit new drivers? Instead of just raising unanswered questions, Keolis embarked on a journey to meet 35 drivers from five subsidiaries in France and Australia to better understand their daily lives. Now, six months later, the Group is publishing the Driver Experience study, the first analysis conducted on the mental workload of public transportation drivers. Discover key takeaways from the study below.

105,000

bus and coach driver positions remain unfilled in Europe (source: International Road Transport Union)

10.66

 %

rate of absenteeism among drivers

The driver experience: a multi-faceted profession 

 

Is knowing how to drive enough to become a bus or tram driver? The answer is a resounding no. Driving a bus or tram requires maneuvering a large vehicle that is not set up in the same way as a personal car. These vehicles must follow a strict route and schedule while transporting a large number of passengers with different backgrounds and personalities. Not to mention the numerous cognitive and behavioral skills that the job requires: concentration, caution, a sense of responsibility, people management and more. These competencies and soft skills are not acquired simply by obtaining a driver’s license.

“Because it involves processing a great deal of information both inside and outside the vehicle, driving is a 360° cognitive and perceptual experience. The driver’s experience is therefore deeply linked to their ability to manage their mental workload while driving”, explains Sofia Escamilla, the UX strategist at Keolis in charge of the study.

50

%

of drivers report suffering from stress

Bus driver

Keolis Lyon

"As a driver, it's important to be able to put on a character's face when we go on duty, and to tell ourselves that nothing is directed against us personally. We have to defuse conflicts at all times, and above all keep smiling and welcoming!"

An unprecedented study on drivers’ mental workload  

 

Thanks to the Driver Experience study conducted in 2023, we have come to understand that drivers' mental workload revolves around three main elements. First, driving: when drivers are on the road, they must process a great deal of information in a limited time while also remaining attentive to passengers. Second, onboard relationships: drivers are often exposed to complex situations with passengers, such as extreme crowding and unruly passengers. Finally, external interactions: on the road, drivers share the public space not only with trucks, cars and motorcycles, but also with bicycles, pedestrians and more. As non-motorized forms of mobility become increasingly popular, drivers will need to navigate them more.

The study includes a self-assessment interview

The protocol includes an initial phase during which driver behavior and reactions in a given situation are filmed (for 3 hours), followed by a self-examination interview.

However, the human brain can only handle three or four pieces of information at a time. To alleviate this mental workload, drivers implement intuitive strategies, such as being extra cautious, strategically positioning themselves in the lane with the fewest obstacles and prioritizing smooth and economical driving. These responses put drivers in an intellectual comfort zone, allowing them to drive with peace of mind in the moment and reduce their mental workload in the long term.

46.2%

of drivers

report that passenger behavior is the main cause of their fatigue

Insights of the 5 experience profiles sought by drivers

 

The Driver Experience study has identified five experience profiles for drivers based on their preferences for driving, customer relations, teamwork and individual activities. The study identifies which type of profile would be most comfortable in an urban, intercity or tramway transportation assignment: the “conformists” would prefer intercity routes, which allow them to manage fewer uncertainties, while the “influencers” would prioritize relationships with their passengers. The “ambitious” would appreciate the technical side of the tram, while the “diligent” or “experts” would be highly versatile.

While these desired experience profiles are diverse and varied, they all have three important criteria in common: empathy, a sense of public service and the ability to manage emotions.

True “Buddhas of the steering wheel”, these drivers all demonstrate exceptional concentration abilities: they score an average of 4.42 points on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale test, compared to 4.38 points for people who regularly practice meditation and 3.85 for students.

“Drivers develop a state of hyperawareness that enables them to handle everything happening ‘here and now’ in the best possible way. This faculty is particularly important when it comes to driving”, describes Sofia Escamilla.

Drivers a true “Buddhas of the steering wheel”
Drivers a true “Buddhas of the steering wheel”

Bus driver

Keolis Atlantique

"Driving all day increases situational awareness and anticipation of what others are going to do."

From the mental workload of drivers to the recognition of their profession 

 

The Driver Experience study represents an essential milestone in identifying the factors in drivers’ mental workload. But this is only the beginning: we must now define concrete solutions to improve their daily lives and revitalize their profession.

For Keolis, this renewed appreciation of the driving profession begins with recruitment and onboarding: the Group is working on a more personalized recruitment process that is much closer to the reality on the ground. Keolis is also developing several training programs for newcomers and encouraging knowledge-sharing between drivers.

Strengthening local management is another priority identified by the Group. The objective is to create more connections between drivers and their managers, while also leaving more room for individual preferences in daily organization.

"By offering a positive and fulfilling cognitive experience from the moment drivers are hired, as well as through personalized managerial support, the job experience becomes more rewarding and constructive", Sofia Escamilla says.

Lastly, Keolis wants to highlight this as a profession that for too long has seemed “obvious” to all its stakeholders. The Group will emphasize the technical nature of the job, the fundamental social role of drivers and the Keolis corporate culture. After all, a driver is an “everyday superhero” above all.

Cover of Le Progrès magazine featuring a bus driver
Cover of Le Progrès magazine featuring a bus driver
Sofia Escamilla Garcia

Sofia Escamilla Garcia

UX Strategist & Researcher – Keolis Innovation

"To enhance the driver experience, Keolis is implementing concrete actions from recruitment to operational support. We are also committed to highlighting the major role drivers play in our society."

The driver's profession requires multiple competencies and soft skills, including driving a massive vehicle, being present at night or on weekends, solving passengers’ problems on board and more. This study by Keolis, which is a real wake-up call regarding drivers' mental workload, highlights the central role of drivers in providing an essential public transport service. Keolis is taking action today, both in France and around the world, to inform, find solutions and restore drivers’ rightful role in transportation and society. Clearly, this role involves far more than simply holding a steering wheel.

A driver is an “everyday superhero” above all
A driver is an “everyday superhero” above all

Study coordinator: Sofia Escamilla

Contact: sofia.escamilla@keolis.com

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