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“Buying the Bus is the Easy Part” EV/ZEB Bus Driver Training Challenges

Given the realities of climate change and energy production, we are moving to a ZEB (zero-emissions bus) world sooner than later and not looking back. As more agencies explore what it will take to transition their fleet, they’re beginning to appreciate that, as one European transit agency recently put it, “buying the [zero-emissions] bus is the easy part.”

Among the most challenging parts? Developing appropriate bus driver training and retraining programs. As we recently explored, early adopters have quickly discovered how pernicious “range anxiety” can become in a transit agency that’s shifted to ZEBs. Likewise, some operators will be put off by how “stiff” a ZEB can feel. The higher-torque electric motors often feel like they’re “all-or-nothing,” rather than smoothly accelerating (and coasting) like a conventional internal-combustion drive train. And EV regenerative braking systems can prove tricky: stiff at some speeds, loose at others. Many operators report feeling like they’re perpetually on the verge of tossing passengers around like dice in a cup.

Most ZEB OEMs offer an initial day or two of behind-the-wheel training for your operators. Such trainings are a good start—especially when they include a train-the-trainer element. They will definitely help drivers work past their initial hesitation and acclimate to the EV torque and regenerative braking.

But a day of training behind-the-wheel is a start, not a training program.

Limitations of Single-Day EV/ZEB Bus Driver Training

Consider range optimization. Operator acceleration and breaking behavior have a huge impact on battery state-of-charge. Estimates vary by vehicle and other factors, but most experts say that you can increase range by up to 25% simply by taking care to optimize acceleration and braking. Learning the fundamentals of managing acceleration and braking is well within the scope of a single-day OEM training.

But as operators settle into their new EV routine, they’ll find that passenger loads, HVAC set-points, and road conditions can all have a surprising impact on vehicle range. Slippery road conditions, for example, can cause more than a 25% loss in energy recovered through regenerative braking, unless drivers properly adjust their technique.

In freezing temperatures, operators may discover that the acceleration and braking strategies that assured them the range to cover their routes are no longer performing as expected. Sub-freezing temperatures prevent batteries from capturing and storing energy as efficiently during charging. And a ZEB doesn’t benefit from the “waste heat” produced by an internal combustion engine. Running the heater off of the same battery pack that drives the bus can reduce range by 25% in winter conditions. In fact, in some situations, the draw for heating the bus and defrosting windows can be higher than that for running the driveline.

Using Sims for EV/ZEB Bus Driver Training

Over the last several years, FAAC has worked tirelessly to stay on the forefront of simulation-based EV/ZEB bus driver training. In 2018, FAAC furnished New Flyer with a fully immersive, full-cab EV bus driver training simulator for their world-class New Flyer Vehicle Innovation Center (VIC) in Alabama.

In the intervening years, FAAC has worked to build relationships with ZEB OEMs in order to offer a path for customers to incorporate their specific EV bus dynamics into FAAC’s vehicle modeling software. These relationships with ZEB OEMs also mean that the FAAC MB 2000 bus operator training simulator has the capability to be built with new or possibly refurbishing sim cabs with genuine ZEB OEM controls and gauges—or create swappable panels, so that a single sim platform can match any of the buses in your fleet as you transition.