Bus during training programs that rely on traditional closed-course driving can struggle to truly test operators’ situational and hazard awareness. Fortunately, these are areas where “permission to fail” simulation training is known to shine.
Simulation Supported Bus Driver Training in Champaign-Urbana
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) in Illinois has been using FAAC bus driver training simulators for roughly a decade. They integrated the simulator into their training program over a two-year period, starting in 2010. Jim Dhom (MTD’s safety and training director) told Passenger Transport in 2013, “When I started in this position in 2004, people in their first year of employment accounted for 35 percent of our total accidents. In 2012, that number went down to 10 percent.” Total accidents likewise declined 26 percent for that year. Dhom attributed these reductions to their shift to simulation-supported bus driver training.
“When they make a mistake, we can play it back for them,” he notes, pinpoint the roots of that mistake, and highlight better strategies. “You can’t do that in a bus.”
Simulation-based Bus Driver Training: A Two-Part Solution
FAAC worked with MTD to replicate geographic and traffic features unique to the local service area. These included narrow campus streets, a tangle of downtown one-way roads, and flocks of pedestrians and bicyclists. But the sim isn’t a magic pill. It’s one half of an equation that is equal parts technology and human:
“You need staff that are comfortable with technology and have some computer expertise. Dedicated staff people are needed to fully utilize the technology.” Technologically adept trainers, Dhom points out, can create their own scripted exercises (“scenarios”) to supplement the large library of exercises provided by the FAAC.
For example, MTD procedure requires that trainees work through six bus preparation exercises before getting behind the wheel of an actual vehicle. Their trainees now use the sim to learn and practice pre-trip inspections and mirror setup, familiarize themselves with the bus controls, and drill on pivot points and turn radiuses. Later in the program, advanced simulation scenarios demand trainees to respond to mechanical problems, adjust to extreme weather, and even handle customer service issues.
Enhancing Hazard Awareness
Waco Transit (in Texas) has had a similar experience with their FAAC sim, which they’ve been using since late 2017. As Waco Transit general manager Allen Hunter assured the Waco Herald-Tribune in 2018:
“Everyone we hire is a well-equipped driver. This simulator does not teach you how to drive, but it teaches you to be more aware by raising your hazard awareness. With this tool, we can change weather conditions to daytime to nighttime to snow, change the transaction of the vehicle, take away the breaks or simulate a tire blowout. … it can test all your senses … in a controlled environment.”
Waco Transit driver JT Colter agrees. “It is not 100 percent what you are doing out on the road,” he explained, “but it is definitely as real as you are going to get. It is definitely a good educational tool, because it makes you a lot more aware of what’s going on.”