New York City Transit reveals conclusive results from its first year of simulator training

MTA New York City Transit's Bus Operator Simulator: A Successful Public/Private Partnership
Stephen Vidal and Virginia Borkoski
MTA New York City Transit, New York, NY

The bus industry today is in need of establishing standards for training, retraining and certification of bus operators throughout North America. Finding an affordable way to utilize emerging technologies toward this end was the driving impetus in the development of a unique public-private partnership that has resulted in asuccessful research and development (R&D) effort.

NYC Transit, working with private industry, has developed a Bus Operator Training Simulator that utilizes state-of-the-art technology to safely simulate bus driving conditions in both urban and suburban areas. The Bus Simulator utilizes sophisticated computer generated graphics, bringing reality to virtual reality bus operator training.

To design and develop an effective simulator, a unique partnership was developed between NYC Transit and private industry. FAAC Inc., the designer of the computer generated system, was eager to work with NYC Transit to develop a full mission, wrap around simulator which could become the industry standard. FAAC, utilizing NYC Transit operations and training expertise, created a fully functional virtual reality simulator, which truly addresses the needs of our diverse industry. This simulator will support transit agencies, both large and small, as well as over-the-road carriers. Using technology initially developed in support of the defense industry, FAAC reached out to Real 3D, a computer hardware developer, to expand its computer simulation processing capability without expanding its pricing. Financing the R&D through an innovative partnering agreement ensured the affordability of this product.

New Flyer, a bus manufacturer, recognized the great potential of the simulator and provided a bus cab off their production line for the project. They have also been instrumental in providing documentation for programming different bus models into the simulator for greater distributed applicability for the industry.

This prototype simulator will be further developed as it becomes the industry standard. It has the potential of revolutionizing training, retraining and certifying bus operators nationwide. As such, cost was of prime importance. The innovative public-private partnership that was created has ensured that the simulator will be kept to approximately the cost of a standard transit bus. The insight required by the project team, and their belief in the industry's need for this product, was the impetus and driving force of its success.

The significance of developing simulation technology for the bus industry is far-reaching. It will enable the industry to establish standards for training, retraining and certifying bus operators. It allows for training in a controlled environment, where both the public and equipment are spared the risks of "live" training. It provides for training under manufactured circumstances, such as inclement weather, heavy traffic, day or night and is also able to simulate equipment malfunctions. Additionally, it can be used as a tool for accident recreation using scripted traffic, providing a credible source of feedback for both the bus operator and the instructor. Technical instruction can be more easily absorbed when the fear of "live" driving is removed from the equation.

Until recently, simulation technology for the transit industry has had limited applications due to both the scope of its functionality and pricing. In addition to being extremely expensive, existing technology such as videobased systems and diorama driving, in use for transit simulation did not support the requirements of NYC Transit's robust, interactive training curriculum. To overcome these obstacles, NYC Transit took the lead in extensively researching simulator technology to determine if the bus industry's needs could be met with products currently available, or whether new technology needed to be developed. In essence, it was determined that the technology did exist, but it needed to be modified to support the bus industry's requirements.

The prototype bus simulator developed for NYC Transit incorporates technology developed by FAAC for military applications. FAAC subsequently applied this technology to ground simulators. FAAC was the sole company to meet NYC Transit's stringent bus simulator base requirements. The initial criteria called for a fully interactive graphic based simulator with a robust, life-like high-density traffic model. The traffic also needed to possess artificial intelligence rules that govern behavior, automatically reacting to the driver, no matter what route is driven. This traffic can also be programmed to react to the driver if driving rule is violated. FAAC had developed a 50 square mile driving world with over 85 miles of roadway that approximated rural and suburban driving characteristics. FAAC's base simulator consisted of a three channel, 180-degree fully interactive simulator with a generic driving cab and inset mirrors.

Public-Private Partnership
NYC Transit entered into a partnership with FAAC to develop a state-of-the-art bus simulator for NYC Transit and the entire transit industry, which was both affordable and could meet the stringent criteria necessary for viable bus operator training. This partnership required commitment from both parties to succeed, especially within the limited timeframe set to debut the prototype simulator at the transit industry's American Public Transit Association (APTA) Expo, less than six months after contract signing.

NYC Transit, in conjunction with FAAC, began to formulate a plan to further develop the existing technology to fully meet the transit industry's requirements and provide a flexible architecture for future enhancements. NYC Transit and FAAC agreed to jointly develop the expansion of the simulator to a full size bus cab, additional functionality for accident reconstruction and recreation of hazardous training scenarios and the development of a New York City driving environment. In addition, the simulator would be expanded from its current three channel, 180 degree model to an eight channel, 315 degree wrap around simulator to address NYC Transit's requirement to use real bus mirrors as opposed to computer generated inset mirrors within the projection screens. Additional simulated vehicles would be networked to increase realism and provide instructors with an additional training tool.

The balance of this unique agreement called for NYC Transit to purchase the hardware necessary for the prototype simulator directly from the hardware suppliers. FAAC then configured the hardware and delivered its then current military surface simulation software free of charge. NYC Transit encouraged New Flyer, a bus manufacturer to donate a bus cab for the simulator and they agreed to participate in the partnership. NYC Transit and FAAC jointly developed the expansion of their then current simulator to the bus cab version. An appropriate New York City virtual environment was jointly created, including specific training areas. Subject matter expertise in the form of NYC Transit transportation training instructors were used to ensure that not only did the simulator meet our requirements but also that it was "real", an authentic simulation that could successfully be used to train and retrain bus operators.

NYC Transit purchased the simulator and bus cab conversion from FAAC and agreed to provide them with a bus cab from its current fleet to enable FAAC to operate a parallel bus simulator on its premises. This will assist in the development and continuous operation of the NYC Transit bus simulator. In addition, NYC Transit will receive all future applicable software upgrades. In return for NYC Transit's R&D efforts, acknowledging that the bus simulator would be commercially feasible for the transit industry, FAAC and NYC Transit entered into a royalty agreement. This agreement will enable NYC Transit to recover funds spent on hardware and labor for the first unit and also provides funds for future R&D enhancements. It was also agreed that NYC Transit and its sister agencies would receive a discount on future simulator purchases.

Process The process, considering the size of NYC Transit, was relatively smooth. Once the conclusion was reached that FAAC was the company that not only had the technology that best supported simulator development, but also the vision to proceed, the rest of the process was mapped out.

The need for a bus simulator, and this technology, was demonstrated to senior management. Key personnel in both the Procurement and Law Departments were involved at an early stage to ensure that all of their concerns were addressed. A Procurement Staff Summary was written and signed, negotiations were held with all concerned parties, and a final contract, agreeable to all parties, was signed.

Work commenced immediately, and development of the simulator remained on schedule. NYC Transit purchased the required hardware, the bus cab was delivered and enhancements to the simulator's graphics capabilities were developed. After the bus cab was converted it was integrated into the bus simulator. Vehicle dynamics were programmed and the additional channels were incorporated with the addition of real mirrors. Simultaneously, NYC Transit was compiling information on New York City street characteristics, training areas to be included in the virtual NYC world and traffic intelligence programming. Many trips for both FAAC and NYC Transit employees were required before the simulator was deemed "real". This virtual reality simulator was delivered on schedule to the APTA Expo in Orlando Florida, in October 1999.

Since its debut, NYC Transit and FAAC have been fine tuning the simulator, and jointly participating in events geared to ensure that simulator technology is available to the entire industry. Events such as Transit 2000, sponsored by New York Public Transit Association (NYPTA) and the Transit Trainers Workshop, sponsored by the National Transit Institute (NTI), have been additional avenues to exhibit this new technology to the industry. The bus simulator has attracted media attention, with stories featured on CNN, ABC, FOX, and in the New York Post.

Curriculum for this new technology is now being developed. Randomly selected groups of new-hire students are being exposed to specific task oriented training. Preliminary results indicate the simulator will greatly improve NYC Transit's training retention rate. A control study has begun to evaluate post-training performance with a focus on the impact of simulator training on accident reduction. NYC Transit is working together with FAAC to implement "Train the Trainer" program in an effort to integrate the use of simulator technology into the existing curriculum of transit properties who purchase a bus simulator. Finally, APTA has agreed to sponsor a committee to explore "Technology in Training", with the first meeting scheduled to be held in NYC to explore uses and limits of simulator technology, curriculum development, funding options, etc. This exposure to the market will ensure that the simulator technology developed by this partnership can move toward becoming the industry standard.

Based on the success of the prototype bus simulator, NYC Transit is entering into an agreement with FAAC to purchase two additional simulators, with an option for a third. This will enable NYC Transit to enhance its current new hire training with the addition of multiple simulator modules, ensuring that each new bus operator is able to take advantage of this new technology to refine their driving skills.

Conclusion The public private partnership developed between NYC Transit and FAAC, Inc. has been, and continues to be, a success. This success can be attributed to the willingness on the part of all concerned to produce a state-of-the-art bus simulator that is viable to the industry as a whole, not just NYC Transit. This process has been a win-win situation for all concerned. It has resulted in a product that without this partnership would not exist today, and which could have been in development for years without success. The synergy which was created when two committed groups joined together to meet the challenge ameliorated the risk held for each. The level of trust on the part of each party was deepened with each small success.

Sadly, cooperative efforts in the public realm such as this, are rare. The barriers to creative development, which are in place to protect the public trust, too often preclude the benefits of measured risk taking. The transit industry, with its limited funding, needs to look toward developing similar partnerships to ensure that the best available technological advances are available to the riding public.


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