Cape Girardeau Transit Authority drivers get training on simulator

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Marilyn Nussbaum has been a driver for the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority for 10 years, but the simulated streets and fabricated conditions were so real to her Friday, she had to get out.

"I got a little dizzy," said Nussbaum of Tilsit. "It looked pretty real."

That's the point.

About 25 drivers for the transit authority -- about 15 of which are new public drivers -- are undergoing training Friday and today before the authority takes over taxi services July 1.

The drivers are getting pointers on mirror set-up, turning and backing up in computerized mock-ups of real buses and cars that simulate driving in conditions such as rain, high wind and snow. The simulator even factors in other drivers, throwing in careless cabbies and reckless semis.

The training is taking place in the back of a tractor trailer that is valued at $1.7 million, once you take into account the 31 computers and vehicle mock-ups that can replicate school buses, police cars and vans.

Think of it as a video game if you want, but authority director Jeff Brune said it's a serious matter of safety.

"Public transit is different than normal street driving," Brune said. "There's a lot of responsibility. These passengers are people's parents and people's grandparents. We want to do everything possible to get our drivers ready for the road."

The simulator was brought to Cape Girardeau from the Paducah Area Transit Authority, which just commissioned the simulator about a month ago. Brune, who would like to model the authority here after Paducah's, learned of the simulator during a recent visit to Paducah.

The cost of training a driver on the simulator is $300 each, Brune said, which was paid for by the Missouri Department of Transportation. The training for the drivers is invaluable, Brune said.

"Two hours of drive time in the simulator is the equivalent of 20 hours on the road," he said. "They can simulate so many different environments -- rain, a blown tire, snow -- the kind of stuff you'd rather a driver experience in a simulator for the first time and not with a passenger in the back seat."

Heather Minton, operations manager for the authority, said the drivers who couldn't attend the training will be trained by the Missouri Department of Transportation. About 40 drivers have been hired, she said.

Delbert Steel, the training supervisor for the simulator, said the simulator has been beneficial throughout Kentucky. Friday marked the first time the simulator came to Missouri.

"It offers risk-free training," he said. "If they make an error in judgment, make a wrong turn, whatever, no one gets hurt."

335-6611, extension 137

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