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Don’t Miss the Bus: Successfully Using a FTA Low-No Grant

Don’t Miss the Bus: Successfully Using a FTA Low-No Grant

The Department of Transportation is going all in on a zero-emission/low-emission future for mass transit. Hence, funding opportunities have been significantly expanded, like the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Low or No Emission Grant Program for buses and bus facilities.

But FTA also acknowledges that the transition to low or no emission buses might be a bumpy road for many transit agencies. It isn’t just that zero-emission buses (ZEBs) handle differently. With diesel transit buses, tuning and maintenance significantly affect fuel economy—much more so than driver habit. With ZEBs, the driver is a much bigger factor. A well-trained operator gets further on the same charge. That can translate to less time spent charging during the day, shorter charging periods at night, and even a less extensive build-out of charging infrastructure. And the reverse is also true: An operator who goes barreling up hills and doesn’t optimize energy usage or make the most of regenerative braking could find themselves stranded mid-shift.

That’s why Low-No includes what amounts to mandatory allowances for operator training and other workforce development

Toward a Zero-Emission Public Transportation Transit System in Billings

For example, Billings (Montana) Metropolitan Transit (MET) used their FTA Low-No Grant award to both buy new ZEBs for their bus fleet and also to improve their training with an immersive transit simulator (specifically a FAAC MB-100). Billings is the first city in Montana to adopt simulation-based training. As MET Transit Manager Rusty Logan explained to KULR-8 News this past January:

“One of the benefits of [simulation-based training] is that it teaches a driver how to utilize an electric vehicle before they show up. They operate and handle a lot differently than diesel-powered buses. Drivers must be conscious of their driving practices while behind the wheel because they must be aware of their battery charge [and know] how to use the regenerative braking systems to regain some of that charge as you’re on the street. So, it has really helped the training process for those new employees.”

In a separate statement, MET Training and Compliance Coordinator Michael Pope expanded on this, noting that “there are multiple real-life scenarios we can set up in the simulator, allowing anything from weather conditions to different types of vehicles, including electrics and larger buses. Also, there is a fire and rescue program installed in the simulator that is helpful for new drivers.”

This is even more important now, as a 2023 change in the FTA Public Transit Safety Agency Plan directives further emphasizes the federal government’s interest in improving the safety of transit workforce training. Traditional training methods (like behind-the-wheel sessions on a closed course) are not well suited to safely and effectively preparing transit operators for many dangerous emergencies, such as extreme weather events, hazardous equipment failures, or de-escalating passenger conflicts while continuing to pilot the bus. On the other hand, immersive simulation is ideally suited to these training tasks.

FTA Low-No Program Partnership

The end of the Low-No Grant program application season is quickly approaching (the deadline this year is April 25). This program continues to require that any funded project include costs for workforce development (at least 5 percent of the total requested amount should be assigned to workforce development on top of the cost of the ZEBs).

The “Partnership Provision” remains in effect for 2024 Low-No Grant applicants, which helps many agencies streamline delivery once their grants are approved. You can include “named partners” in your grant, which are specific companies that will help you implement your project. When you do so, the project will automatically satisfy the requirement for a competitive procurement process. FAAC was MET’s named partner on their recent Low-No Grant-funded ZEB project and was pleased to help MET smooth their transition and get the most out of their workforce development dollars with the least hassle.

Ready to get rolling? Or simply considering your training options? Contact us today to discuss how immersive simulation can meet your transit workforce development needs and meet the expectations of an FTA Low-No Grant.