As for the vehicles, two major steps include converting to hybrid vehicles and for operator training, utilizing simulators. Safety and Training Director James Dhom has simulators to work with, which were installed in 2010. Dhom says, “You can save time and fuel on the bus because you can cover much of the information in here, in a semi-read setting.”
Not only the operators, but most all employees at MTD have their Commercial Driver’s License, so they are trained on the simulators, as well. Aside from being a smaller agency and it being beneficial in case of emergencies, it also reminds all employees what it takes to operate a bus.
The simulators are set up to look and feel like you’re in the vehicle and the trainer can “load” which bus is being driven, whether it’s one of their 30-foot El Dorados or a 60-foot New Flyer artic. And then the trainer can tailor exactly what kind of scenario is going to be presented.
Different “worlds” can be loaded: country, county, urban, garage situations and in the case of MTD, a customized world. “All of our buses except for about two routes go through campus,” Dhom explains. “It’s not as bad as Chicago, still, you’re talking about a 14-block area with 42,000 students and 17,000 faculty. Big time problems for us.
“In addition to purchasing the general worlds that we got from FAAC, we got a customized one for our campus area. We can show our campus area and the problems that we are having.”
Dhom explains that they can look specifically at what accidents are occurring and where, and then focus in on those very scenarios.
When it comes to the actual vehicles at MTD, Moore says they got their first hybrid in 2009 and had been looking at alternative fuel options since the early to mid-2000s. “The Allison hybrid system was coming out and it had gained a reputation of what people describe as a bulletproof system; it was doing well.
“We knew we were going to take that next step but we knew we had to go with a system that was proven.” He continues, “So in 2009 we pulled the trigger and we got these 30-footers and 60-footers from New Flyer. We had very good luck with them and then in 2011 we got 23 40-footers and then in 12 we got 12 more.”
The biggest question from peers about converting, he says, was what did they have to change in their infrastructure or process to handle hybrids. “And my answer is nothing,” he states. “I mean literally, there was no training, other than training which is involved when you buy a fleet, but other than that, there was nothing and you get them out on the street every day.”
In the community, ridership has been up 9 to 10 percent, walking and biking rates are up and vehicle miles traveled have leveled off and actually decreased in the University District.
A similar indicator is that the purchase of parking permits has gone down in both cities and the University the last two years. Though it wasn’t always that way.
Transportation Consultant Cynthia Hoyle was brought on because the city would inform MTD of new developments after it had gone to the planning commission, which is after a lot of time and money had already been spent.
“They needed someone in the door earlier so I began attending the meetings. “I used to joke that my job was to ask how the pedestrian got from the street to the store.” She says, “I don’t have to ask that question anymore. The cities have really moved forward and adopted plans for active transportation.”
Hoyle says one of the best things to happen was when the health community started saying that the built environment is impacting our health. “It’s hard to argue with that.”
She says they have just gotten their third Safe Routes to School grant and that has had an impact on the community, as well. “You create the infrastructure for children to walk and everyone can use that.” She adds, “You talk about safe routes for kids and only the worst curmudgeon in the world is going to come in and object to that. “Occasionally that will happen, but most people are like, ‘Wow, what a creeper.’”
As for bikes, Urbana is a Bicycle Friendly Community Bronze Level from the League of American Bicyclists and MTD is a Bicycle-Friendly Business Silver. There is a process so you know what you need to do to move forward in becoming more bicyle friendly and having that designation is something MTD can brag about to students.