It’s no wonder that coach companies and transit agencies are investing millions in new electric buses. In many regions, shifting to EV mass transit will be a game changer. And mass transit, with its emphasis on low-speed stop-and-go driving is perfect for EV buses relying on regenerative braking, turning that traditional fuel-waster into a valuable source of energy. But are you investing enough in bus driver training alongside your investments in your fleet? This isn’t just about helping drivers more quickly get a feel for EV handling and the responsiveness of regenerative braking systems. It’s also about addressing unforeseen new stresses that come with new vehicle types. As is the case with private EVs, mass transit agencies and coachlines are increasingly seeing drivers beset by “range anxiety.”
What is EV Bus “Range Anxiety”
In 2019 Route One defined “range anxiety” as “a new and very real phenomenon where drivers start to worry that the bus might run out of charge while they are on the route. They may radio the office in a panic, worrying about what to do, and this in turn can be transmitted to passengers who will start to feel anxious too.” According to Tony Oldham, Operations Director for CT4N, “Our drivers had an initial induction course on how to drive the buses, but it wasn’t until they were a few weeks into the job that we started seeing the issues with range anxiety.” As the operators settle into driving EV buses and the initial excitement mellows, they discover how varied range can be, and it dawns on them that “You can’t just run out with a can of diesel to rescue them.”
Simulation-based EV Bus Driver Training
Ironically, when piloting an EV, properly trained mass transit operators actually have more control over their “fuel” consumption than in a diesel vehicle. Operators can boost range up to 20% by driving style alone. Variations in weather and terrain—-and knowing how to adapt to them—can also play a major role.
In 2018 FAAC was selected to furnish the New Flyer Vehicle Innovation Center with the world’s first immersive bus driver training simulator modeling the New Flyers Xcelsior® CHARGE electric bus. According to New Flyer:
“The simulator’s main objective is to support driver training specific to regenerative braking, an energy-saving technique drivers can employ in conserving battery-electric energy. Operating techniques and skills gained from the simulator will improve bus operation, including extended range, reduced energy consumption, and less brake system maintenance.”
According to Wayne Joseph (President of New Flyer of America), “A skilled driver of an electric bus can have as much as a 15% impact on the energy use, so critical skills training of this type can dramatically reduce Transit Authorities operating costs.”
Whenever possible, FAAC sims incorporate full-scale original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components. This offers two key advantages. First and foremost, it helps ensure that skills transfer is as seamless as possible. But almost more importantly, by creating an operator environment as similar as possible to reality, operators are able to “rehearse” the experience of operating an EV bus in advance, acclimate to what is new in a safe environment, and work through their anxieties.