The Omnitrans Fleet Safety & Training team is in the process of acquiring an impressive new tool to add to their arsenal. Thanks to a federal grant, they plan to be training new coach operators on the premises soon, using a state-of-the-art coach simulator tailored specifically to real life agency vehicles and routes.
“This is the next wave of technology,” says Fleet Safety and Training Supervisor Don Frazier. “It will bump our training up to a whole new level and save the agency a lot of money. Right now it costs $90 an hour to run a bus. Putting a student on a coach simulator doesn’t cost the agency anything. It’s an excellent defensive driving tool and will allow us to test the reaction times of student coach operators. The system can also be hooked up so that other students can observe the driver in the simulator as part of the learning experience. Normally this technology costs between $130,000 to $200,000, but we would get it for $20,000—which we are working to cover with a federal grant. It’s an incredible opportunity for us.”
The simulator is currently being programmed by our partners at Cal State San Bernardino, who will use the data collected by the simulator to develop future transit training technologies and traffic studies. They will also adapt the simulator to replicate an actual Omnitrans coach. It will be set up with everything the bus would have: wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal, wheel, emergency brake, etc. It will also have the feel of a regular coach, providing the same feel of the road, and tug of the wheel when making turns.
A student sitting in the coach simulator will be surrounded by three screens, one in the front and one on either side. The images on the screen show all the details that the coach operator would see in each window in real-life, complete with rear view mirrors that capture what is going on alongside and towards the back of the vehicle.
“In addition to mimicking our regular routes, the simulator will also be programmed with emergency situations that will help us prepare student coach operators before they ever get on the road,” explains trainer Christina Diaz. “Scenarios will include things like sudden stops, getting cut off in traffic, unexpected pedestrians, bicyclists, right and left turns and pulling into a passenger zone.”
The idea is to get students comfortable with the coach and routes and prepare them for difficulties they may encounter while they are in a safe environment. It builds their confidence and helps them to develop good habits and quick reflexes. Because the rest of the class can observe each student in action in the simulator, it becomes a valuable group teaching tool as well, creating the opportunity for questions and discussion.
“We’re very excited by the possibilities the new simulator opens up for us,” says Christina. “Normally when we train on live vehicles, we have to pull a coach from service to practice with. And even though the students are all on board and take turns driving, it’s hard for the entire class to really see what’s going on in the front driver’s seat at any given time. The new simulator saves money, reduces service down times, gives students more ‘on the road’ experience and enhances the overall quality of our training.”
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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