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Top Three Ways to Get the Most Out of a Bus Simulator Training Program

Top Three Ways to Get the Most Out of a Bus Simulator Training Program

Using immersive simulators for Bus Operator training has some obvious benefits, they allow you to: practice the mechanics of right and left-hand turns without the risks to safety or equipment, introduce foul-weather driving skills – even on a sunny day, practice situational awareness without endangering the public, review disablement and emergency procedures, and much more. The sim can never 100% replace classroom and behind-the-wheel training. But it’s a remarkable tool for: quickly helping novice drivers learn basic operating skills and become road-safe, returning Operators recover their skills, or experienced Operators correct bad habits.

But not every agency is making the most of their bus simulator. The major mistake that Instructors often make with their sim training programs is focusing too much on the actual “driving.” Because a traditional behind-the-wheel driving exercise typically takes about 20 minutes, they assume that the analogous simulation-based training exercise should also last 20 minutes. This is never the case.

There are also benefits to having a group students involved in the training as opposed to one-on-one driving. A typical Student-to-Instructor ratio is 3:1. A group sim session could double or even triple that number. This is a cost-effective method can be utilized on days that have manpower issues. Also some students adapt to the simulator better than others. Having a group session with 6-9 students allows students who do not adapt well to still get the learning objectives by observing and then participating in the after-action review phase.

Simulation training is effective because of the three ways it doesn’t have to be like real life:

the session doesn’t have to take long
the trainee’s bus doesn’t have to be moving
the exercise doesn’t have to be continuous

This doesn’t just make for more efficient training. It also helps address concerns about the potential for motion discomfort (sometimes called “simulator sickness” or Simulator Adaptation Syndrome (SAS) that some trainees occasionally experience during simulator training scenarios. On the road, frequent stops and starts associated with driving in heavy traffic can make for a stuttering progress that can increase motion sickness. But in the sim, the opposite is true: frequent pausing can relieve or prevent any perceived discomfort.

Tip #1. Short Sessions

One of the huge advantages of using a simulator is that you don’t have to waste time moving several tons of steel into position in order to complete a training exercise. The sim can drop the trainee directly into the exact moment and setting that they need to experience and practice. The learning objectives are covered immediately without a lot of additional driving around. Plus, the training experience is consistent and repeatable – no waiting for traffic or pedestrians to be in exactly the “right spot” to complete the required maneuver.

This allows for a sort of “round robin” with a group of trainees at the simulator. For example, while one is actually behind the wheel driving a right-hand clearance scenario, the others observe from the Instructor’s view (which can also show different perspectives on the action, like an overhead view), giving them further insight into how that bus is negotiating the roadway. The driving portion of the exercise is often just 15 seconds or less. Then the trainee is out of the seat, rejoining the class at the Instructor’s Station to review the exercise with the class. After review and corrective action, another trainee takes the wheel.

Tip #2. Static Scenarios

In many cases, hazard spotting and situational awareness scenarios require no actual simulated movement of the vehicle — and thus have an extremely low risk of generating potential discomfort. Such exercises can be either entirely static or involve the movement of the objects in the simulated environment (cars and pedestrians navigating the roadway and sidewalks, for example) while the trainee’s bus is stationary or running on “autopilot.” This unique approach to training doesn’t have a real-world equivalent, allowing trainees to hone critical observational and task management skills in a way that isn’t repeatable or safe out on the roads.

Just seat the trainee in the simulator and prepare them for a hazard-spotting exercise. Describe their situation (e.g., pulling away from a transit stop) and ask them what they should be on the lookout for. Then, let the simulation roll, including something unexpected (e.g., a careless pedestrian darting out from between parked vehicles). Allow the trainee to be surprised by the situation. Then rewind the exercise and point out the warning signs (such as the pedestrian stepping off the curb and slipping between two vehicles).   Other situations could be a passenger running for the bus, or the position of the bus when berthed at the curb. A bus that is angled inward from the front causes a dangerous situation on at least three levels (Passengers crossing in front, Vehicles with an obstructed view passing on the left, and an increased blind spot in the rear when pulling out of the stop).

Tip #3. Non-Continuous Exercises

Many agencies use their simulators to model problem intersections or actual collisions in their training scenarios. This is a terrific use of a sim, with major safety benefits. But you can take it one step further by breaking the exercise into segments and then switching the trainee’s perspective. For example, midway into that problem, when the trainee is making the same mistakes as the real-life Operator did, you can pause the exercise and switch to a bird’s-eye view. Now the trainee can see what they and the real-life Operator potentially missed during the actual incident. How did the combination of speed, poor positioning, hazard awareness and/or sloppy scanning conspire to lay the groundwork for a collision? You can then continue the exercise, or jump back in time and shift perspectives again, so that the trainee can learn from their initial mistakes. Allow the trainee to work through several different approaches, if necessary, and in the process develop a much more complete mental picture of how the bus moves through space and negotiates traffic. You could also create more training segments by creating versions of a problem intersections that can present different hazards at different times of day. For instance, mid-day will have light vehicle and pedestrian traffic, while rush hour will have an increase of both, including bicycles and oversized vehicles. At night visibility is decreased. To train on the road in those situations you would have to visit the intersection at least three different times on multiple days. By creating three driving simulator scripts in which you start out with light traffic, then add trucks, bikes, pedestrians to create blind spots and hazards, and then finally reduce the environment to nighttime, you can quickly move through training exercises in less than an hour.

Customer for Life

Need help finding new solutions to bus driver training challenges? FAAC treats every customer as a “customer-for-life,” supporting them in determining the best way to integrate simulation-based solutions into their programs. Contact us today, and let’s put our expertise to work for you.