Transit agencies are rightly concerned about deploying electric vehicles (EVs). According to Jason Francisco, Transportation Business Manager at FAAC Incorporated:
“Everyone knows that an EV bus has a lot more torque than a conventional diesel bus, on top of a very different feel to the braking and deceleration. They know that creating a smooth and comfortable ride for the passenger will definitely need to be top of mind for bus drivers, even experienced ones. But no one knows what that’s going to look like in actual practice, or how vehicle range is going to be affected by an individual’s current skills and driving habits
Your immersive transit simulator is a potent tool for ensuring the success of your agency’s electric bus deployment. First and foremost, like any simulation-based training, it lets you safely train for all conditions at any time, and prepare for even the lowest-frequency, high-impact events. But more importantly in the case of electric bus driver training, your sim makes it easier to help new and veteran drivers build the EV-specific skills they need well in advance of vehicle deployment.
Tip #1: Train Prior to EV Deployment
The earlier training begins, the better. As Jason explains, “You go a long way toward laying the groundwork for success if you can give your Operators the experience of driving a zero-emission bus prior to actual deployment”—or even before your EVs are delivered.
Agencies that already use FAAC simulation technology can begin virtual “behind-the-wheel” training now, before they’ve even settled on a specific model of zero emission bus. FAAC’s standard transit simulator software package now includes vehicle dynamics models for both generic and manufacturer-specific EV buses (e.g., New Flyer, Proterra, etc.)
These models will enable a FAAC simulator to replicate the operating dynamics of an EV bus. More importantly, each vehicle dynamics model is customizable. You can modify any of them to precisely match the handling and responsiveness of the electric vehicles you’ll be receiving for your fleet.
“Every manufacture is different,” Jason notes. “And, on top of that, the regenerative braking system on most electric buses is a tunable item from the OEMs. When we visited with Proterra, they took us out onto a closed course in an EV bus. When the driver took his foot off the accelerator pedal and the regen began applying, it felt like braking. I’m told that on that particular bus, an experienced bus Operator could practically drive the entire course without actually touching the brake pedal.”
That said, every electric bus has a lot of low-end torque, compared to a diesel bus. “Smooth on and smooth off are key skills. This means applying the accelerator pedal smoothly to avoid a sudden jerk that rattles the passengers, as well as coming off the accelerator smoothly in a way that anticipates the topography of the roadway and leverages the regen breaking effect. And, you really aren’t going to learn these skills until you have a chance to feel it for yourself and work on that muscle memory.”
Tip #2: Leverage Your Transit Simulator as a Planning Tool
Your transit simulator likely includes tools that lets you track bus driver performance during a simulated drive. At the very least, assessment tools allow the instructor to “score” a drive, track progress, and flag potential problem areas.
But automated assessment tools don’t have to be just a scorecard. A more advanced tool, like FAAC’s VITALS (the Virtual Instructor/Trainee Assessment and Learning System), can be used to develop custom training plans for each trainee.
VITALS is an interactive assessment tool that creates a complete record of the trainee’s performance. It now includes a Regen Dashboard for electric buses. This is a unique training feature that graphs and maps how the trainee’s driving behavior impacts EV bus performance and range on a scenario-by-scenario basis. For example, two bus drivers might struggle with EV bus range. A simple “scorecard” assessment system might give them both the same final score. But that won’t help them identify the potentially small habits that are taking a big bite out of their battery regeneration levels that ultimately effect the vehicle’s overall range.
Meanwhile, a tool like VITALS helps trainers identify and address the unique set of habits and behaviors that are keeping that Operator from hitting their battery regen goals.
“We recently attended a conference session in DC,” Jason says, “and the speaker mentioned that, for many transit systems, their EV buses will need to be able to last three drivers on a single charge. That’s a big ask. It takes a lot of driving skill to maintain the battery state of charge necessary to operate an EV all day. Prior to EV bus deployment, you can use a tool like VITALS to track each Operator’s energy usage and battery regeneration during simulated drives. You get a head start on tracking down those habits and behaviors that were fine when driving a conventional bus, but don’t translate very well to an EV bus.”
Tip #3: Prepare for Emergency on an Electric Bus
With any new technology comes new risks—many of which are hard to anticipate. Electric buses are no exception.
“For example,” Jason says, “take thermal events—a.k.a., fires. Current bus Operators are familiar with the existing early warnings for a bus fire, and what to do in that situation. These practices are going to change with the introduction EV buses. Some of the warning indicators and alarms are different, in terms of their sights and sounds and the way the vehicle behaves. Preventative maintenance and pre-shift checklists that help to ensure safety will also need to change. As a result, Operator response, and those of community-based emergency personnel, will most certainly be different as well.”
Of course, not every issue that arises is a five-alarm emergency. An EV bus may have issues with a pantograph sticking, low tire pressure, or unexpected changes in the battery’s state of charge. FAAC transit simulators can emulate every kind of vehicle fault—from a flat tire to erroneous gauge readings—as well as maintenance issues, fires, collisions, inclement weather, situations involving emergency responders, and more. Specific scenarios and content can be built around such emergencies, or they can be added into other scenarios by the Instructor on the fly, helping bus Operators “stay on their toes” and develop situational awareness and emergency response readiness.