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Easing Operators into Public Transport Simulation Training: Tips from Dennis Hershberger of MTA Flint

Transit operators—especially senior operators—are notoriously hesitant to dive into public transport simulation training. The culprit: anxiety over simulator sickness.

MTA Flint training instructor Dennis Hershberger is extremely familiar with those worries. Over his nearly two decades of experience using public transport simulation to train operators, he has almost certainly tried every trick in the book to minimize motion sickness during training. And in that time he’s found a pair of excellent beginning public transport simulation training exercises that minimize motion discomfort while maximizing engagement and education.

Hazard Spotting Without Motion Sickness

Hershberger starts everyone out with a stationary hazard spotting exercise he built using his sim’s included scenario authoring software. The trainee sits in the simulator, but won’t need to actually pilot the vehicle (something that significantly decreases the risk of motion discomfort).

“I sit them down behind the wheel and tell them we’re going to work through several hazard spotting scenarios. For the first, we’ll be looking at an intersection where there’s a fire truck and police car. There’s a person waiting at the bus stop across the intersection. I tell them they need to pick up that client on the other side. What do you think might be the hazard?”

Of course, everyone points to the fire truck and the police car. Hershberger then starts playing the simulation. The bus carefully enters the intersection, and just as the front end clears the fire truck BAM! a cyclist hits the side of the bus and the simulation freezes. Then Hershberger rewinds it.  The trainee can now see that the bicycle’s wheels were clearly visible underneath the firetruck the entire time.

“That’s part of your intersection awareness. Just because there’s a fire truck and a police officer, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. This is extremely short—just a few seconds, literally no time to develop any sort of motion discomfort—but extremely effective.”

Breaking Up the Turns Helps Trainees Process What They’ve Learned

Controlling a moving simulation can lead to a greater degree of discomfort for many operators. Hershberger has found that “If you make a right or left hand turn, that seems to be the culprit. Right turns seemed to be the worst for most people. I think when you’re looking forward, trying to clear the front, the quickness of that turn with the screen and the picture moving, your eyes have trouble catching up with it.”

So Hershberger has developed a system for breaking up the visuals while training operators to set up turns. This creates less discomfort and also makes for a highly effective exercise, giving the trainee time to process each step in properly executing the turn.

“Have them focus on the right curb—the exercise is about not jumping the curb, after all. And tell them, ‘When I tell you to stop, stop'”:

  • Pull up to the intersection—and stop.
  • Set up for your right hand turn.
  • Pull out—stop.
  • Check: Where are you in the turn? Is the back tire even with the arc of that curve?

He then switches to a top-down view of the road, so the trainee has a bird’s eye view, and can see where the curve is in reference to the back tire. He explains that their goal is to steer that back tire around the curve, adjusting the steering wheel to maintain that same distance all the way through the turn.

He switches back to the driver’s view and continues, periodically stopping and changing the point of view, so the operator can check their progress.

“Taking it in pieces, instead of one sweep, helps their brain catch up, preventing discomfort. It also breaks up that movement. There’s a lot to track there, and they need to be aware of each element and then put it all together—something you can’t really do if you’re just sweeping through that turn out on the driving course.”

Simulations for the Win

The key element in all of these, according to Hershberger, is “not wiping them out.” Each student can complete each exercise in five to 30 seconds. They then leave the sim to review what they experienced and watch others work through the scenario. Those breaks don’t just break up the discomfort before it can become a distraction or fixation—it also keeps their minds sharp and gives them an opportunity to process their experiences, locking them into memory.