When Waco Transit driver JT Colter buckled himself into the Waco Transit bus simulator for the first time last week, he slowly pulled onto a fictitious downtown street.

“It is not 100 percent what you are doing out on the road, but it is definitely as real as you are going to get,” Colter said. “It is definitely a good educational tool, because it makes you a lot more aware of what’s going on.”

In a partnership with Texas Department of Transportation, Waco Transit was able to acquire the FAAC Inc. bus driving simulator in September. Operators and trainers recently started integrating the tool into transit employees’ training routines. The equipment gives drivers a 315-degree field of view in as they sit buckled into a mock-up of a city bus cab.

“This is about a $500,000 tool that we were able to get at no cost to the city, so we are very pleased to be able to incorporate this into our training program,” Waco Transit general manager Allen Hunter said. “At some point, all of our operators and all of our employees will go through this, but we have started taking all of our new employees through it and will use it for re-training employees as well.”

Colter started with Waco Transit in August and drove the bus simulator for the first time last week, taking on simulations in a variety of neighbors, traffic conditions and weather. Drivers are graded on the various scenarios and educated in best driving practices for each one.

“Everyone we hire is a well-equipped driver. This simulator does not teach you how to drive, but it teaches you to be more aware by raising your hazard awareness,” Hunter said. “With this tool, we can change weather conditions to daytime to nighttime to snow, change the transaction of the vehicle, take away the breaks or simulate a tire blowout.

“This is not a toy, but it can test all your senses and help drivers in a controlled environment by getting them comfortable with the basics.”

Certified trainer David Hall said the new tool is extremely beneficial for transit employees, who log more than 2 million miles throughout McLennan County each year. He said the ability to change scenarios and focus on drivers’ operations is educational, and the toll is financially responsible for Waco Transit, too.

“You can take drivers through a scenario here and it not cost a dime,” Hall said. “You can take drivers through tight corners, get into a dead-end backing situation, have a blow out. That would cost money when those things can happen to us in day-to-day life in Waco, but in simulating those kinds of issues, it doesn’t cost us anything.”

The current simulator program has standard street and traffic-flow patterns, but trainers will eventually be able to create streets similar to Waco’s or and create their own city roadways, Hunter said.

“Over time, we would like to possibly open the simulator up to other agencies, like police, fire departments or school bus drivers for a small fee, so they can use this as a training tool,” Hunter said. “It’s really meant to help drivers and safety elements for our community.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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