Los Angeles Mass Transit Authority

Scenario

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans, coordinates, designs, builds and, most importantly, operates the public transportation system for one of the country’s largest and most populous counties. Over nine million people live and work in this 1400 square mile area. Operating public transit in LA requires enormously complex responsibilities involving 1900 motor coaches, sixty miles of rail service, and over 8,000 drivers and maintenance workers.

Clearly, ensuring that both drivers and maintenance personnel are well trained to operate the vehicles and deliver excellent customer service represents a tall order. Towards that end, the company trains more than 500 people a year as new bus drivers both in the classroom and on the road. Until recently, course instructors administered paper-based assessments after course completion. Not only did the manual method make administering and grading the tests and quizzes time intensive but also tended to make the final test easier to pass. The same 180 questions had been used for years — a threat to test security — and those who flunked could take it again.

Using Questionmark

Mark Anderson, upon being hired as the head of operations training, felt strongly that teaching and grading should be separate functions. “We want to get quality people; we don’t want to make sure that everyone passes,” he said. The best way to achieve that goal was to use computerized testing. Anderson chose Questionmark because the assessment program easily randomizes the questions and because computerized testing assures objectivity.

MTA relies upon Questionmark in a number of different ways. MTA delivers an orientation program, a defensive driving course, and one on customer service. At the end of every class during the courses, learners take a practice test to assess their progress. They’re able to accomplish this easily because they take the tests in the same room where they work through computer-based training courses.

At the end of each week, MTA uses Questionmark to give a “unit” test on that week’s topic. This test becomes progressive so that the first exam covers week one while the second evaluates learners on both weeks one and two. That way students work their way up to the final test and what they’ve learned gets valuable reinforcement. MTA has already invested in forty computers and look to gain future access to satellite training computers in its eleven divisions.

Results

At first, personnel at MTA resisted the new approach. Accustomed to a manual system, the instructors didn’t like the loss of control. New students who knew about the old system and its easier standards were also nonplussed. However, now that MTA has used Questionmark for several months the results have become very positive.

“Everyone’s saying, ‘Gosh, the students coming out are so much better,’” said Anderson. “Their customer service skills are better, they listen, and accident statistics for new employees are way down.”

Anderson went on to observe that many students come in after class, on their own time, to take practice quizzes. They are more engaged and Questionmark provides a great vehicle for students to assess their own skills as they work through each course.

Now he plans to use Questionmark for course evaluations as well as expand its use to maintenance training.