Every transit agency struggles with churn and a shortage of good applicants. Take St. Louis Metro Transit as an example. That agency needs to hire and train at least 100 to 120 operators per year, just to stay ahead of churn.
Traditionally, transit agencies have dealt with this by seeking to hire individuals who already have large apparatus or commercial motor vehicle (CMV) experience (e.g. former military, retired firefighters and police officers, or over-the-road truckers looking for a job with less travel). The rationale is pretty straightforward: If someone already has a CDL or experience with large vehicles, we’ll spend less time training or retraining them to safely operate a bus.
But what if we’ve been “over-indexing” these skills? Yes, safely piloting a CMV is challenging—but is it the biggest challenge transit operators face?
“Look at it this way,” explains Steve Berry, General Manager for Public Safety at St. Louis Metro Transit, “most people don’t get fired because they don’t have the skills to do the job. Most people get fired over poor behavior.”
Instead of looking for individuals with a CDL or CMV experience (which often also means hiring older workers with little customer relations experience), many agencies are instead seeking out younger hires who have great people skills—and have maybe never considered getting behind the wheel at all. For this group especially—inexperienced drivers new to large vehicles—bus simulators often prove to be a superior training platform.
Bus Simulator Training for Younger, Customer-Focused Operators
Research has shown that bus simulators can be as good as, if not better than traditional behind-the-wheel closed course training—especially for new drivers. In a 2011 article published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, researchers J.F. Morgan, Scott Tidwell, Alejandra Medina, and Myra Blanco wrote:
“Training in a CMV driving simulator can result in drivers having skills equivalent to drivers trained in a conventional BTW [behind-the-wheel] manner and, in fact, the simulator group drivers had higher levels of performance on some tests as compared to CDL-focused trained drivers. … Based on the findings of this study, increasing the amount of time an entry-level CMV driver trains offers advantages in terms of skill demonstration … The results of the present study indicate that drivers trained with the majority of their driving occurring in a simulator possess skills equivalent to those trained in an actual vehicle.”
Steve Berry of St. Louis Metro points out “Before, you’d only hire a bus driver because they may have previously had a CDL. But mass transit isn’t just about getting our clients from here to there safely and on time. It’s about getting our clients from here to there safely, on time, with a good experience. And the younger folks tend to meet that criteria more often. But they lack the driving side of it.” That was a significant hurdle prior to having a simulator to support their training program.
“Whereas before, our average age to hire was mid-40s to early 50s; now they’re starting to get younger. … They’re typically more used to the technology environment than what we were seeing about 10 years ago. They’re more accepting to train with the bus simulator.”