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Bus Simulator vs. “Bending Metal Behind the Wheel”: Helping Operators Acclimate to Vehicle Dynamics

Bus Simulator vs. “Bending Metal Behind the Wheel”: Helping Operators Acclimate to Vehicle Dynamics


Even when transit agencies go out of their way to seek out applicants with prior large/commercial motor vehicle (CMV) experience, they find that those trainees can struggle to learn how to maintain proper right rear clearance, “walk” the bus around the corner, and continue to properly scan the area and mirrors. Increasingly, they are finding bus simulators are the superior tool for helping those new operators make the transition from other CMVs to large transit vehicles.

As Leeya Sutter, Human Resources Director for Southeast Michigan’s Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) said, “We get operators who are doing this as a second career. Even though they have large vehicle experience, they face challenges. We get truck drivers or school bus drivers, and they’re accustomed to the semi-truck or school bus, where the wheels are still in front of you, like a traditional car. With our buses, the front wheels are in the back of [the operator]. So, it’s hard for them to get acclimated because even though it is still a big commercial vehicle, you have to turn differently.”

Russell Nikiforuk, Manager for Operator and Technical Training at Coast Mountain Bus Company, sees this as well: “We have the same kind of issues in the sense that with our equipment the front wheels are typically behind the operator. So, there can be times when we look to use the simulator. Say, for example, if an individual is having trouble making turns or adjusting to those certain things. We can get them into the simulator and say ‘Before we go out on the road, let’s try this and test it out.’”

Benefits Beyond Initial Acclimation and Training

The Coast Mountain Bus Company is far from alone in addressing transit vehicle acclimation problems using their bus simulator. For years, METRO magazine (a leading trade publication for bus, rail, and motorcoach operators) has advocated bus simulators as especially useful in acclimating drivers to the challenges of planning and executing right turns: “This is a great exercise to bring into a supplemental training tool, such as a bus simulator. This will remove the threat of physical harm and allow for greater repetition to promote proficiency.”

Steve Berry, General Manager for Public Safety for St. Louis Metro, tends to agree.

“Bus characteristics are a big deal,” Berry explains. “New CDL holders just aren’t used to the size, weight, and dimensions. And once they get used to that, they aren’t used to the variance in the weather. Snow is a major factor [in St. Louis], but so is rain, wind speed, and high gust areas—all of those play a very important role. You have a million-dollar piece of equipment with many occupants inside. There’s a lot on the line, and the operator needs to be ready to make a call about when it’s safe to operate. They are the first and most important safety component in our system.”