NORTH OAKVILLE TODAY – Consider the size of your living room. Now consider driving your living room down Trafalgar Road.
That’s how Oakville Transit Supervisor Doug Hawthorne describes the difficulties of driving a 40-foot bus and after a virtual test drive, this reporter agrees with that metaphor.
In order to teach trainee bus drivers how to traverse town roads in such an awkward vehicle, Oakville Transit now has a secret weapon: a bus simulator.
“It’s amazing, the whole idea that people can fail in a safe environment, so you can learn the lesson without suffering the consequences,” said Director of Oakville Transit Barry Cole.
Previously, new drivers used to learn the basics in a classroom and get their experience out in the real world, but not anymore.
“At some point the rubber has to hit the road and the driver has to get out into the real environment,” said Hawthorne, “but you can spend some quality time in here addressing some of the issues that crop up.”
The brand new state-of-the-art simulator, which looks surprisingly like an arcade game, takes up an entire room in the Town’s newly opened transit depot at 430 Wyecroft Road.
Inside the simulator is an exact replica of an Oakville Transit bus cockpit, which is surrounded by computer screens providing the trainee’s view to their simulated outside world.
The Town of Oakville was gracious enough to let North Oakville Today take its latest tool for a test drive and experience the new training system before it goes into effect.
The simulator can be programmed to conjure up any scenario drivers could experience out in the real world. As a demonstration, Hawthorne programmed a snowy day with particularly aggressive traffic for this reporter’s driving test.
The bus proved difficult to manoeuvre because of its size and the massive steering wheel. Turning corners takes skill and I needed a couple of attempts to get it right. The task was made all the more difficult by the driving snow.
I had heard that some people get sick in the simulator because of the realism of the movement. And I guess I’m one of those people. It was a disorienting feeling when your eyes think you’re moving but your brain isn’t quite sure.
Dizziness, snow, and aggression don’t mix.
Suddenly, a particularly impatient “person” cut in front of my “bus” so he could make a right turn at the next intersection. My bus t-boned the car and my simulator ride came to an abrupt end.
Luckily, I was not at the helm of a real Town bus, which I guess was the whole point of this experiment. I unwittingly demonstrated the simulator’s importance.
The $800,000 plus high-tech bus-driving simulator was manufactured by FAAC Inc., considered a world leader in simulator technologies.
FAAC is currently in the process of creating a virtual Oakville, which focuses on some of the more difficult routes and areas for bus drivers in Town.
“The first time [drivers] encounter these things in a virtual world instead of on the street in a bus with people around,” said Cole.
According to Cole, there are only three such machines in Canada: one in Oakville, one in Toronto and one in York Region.
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