MTA safety training program prepares operators for the streets

Tim Fleischer reporting - and "driving"
April 22, 2014 3:27:07 PM PDT
As a part of the city's effort to reduce traffic-related deaths, the MTA mandates its bus operators undergo a rigorous safety training program.

Over the coming weeks, a number of aspiring bus operators will undertake this intense work to become an MTA bus operator, with training Superintendent Gus Gonzalez carefully watching over their shoulders throughout the process.

"Safety is always our number one priority," said Stephen Vidal, the MTA Vice President of Transportation, Safety & Training. "Safety, service, then schedules."

The danger is even greater in an age when pedestrians are absorbed in cell phones and music through headphones and other drivers are no less distracted.

"It's a major challenge for operators to be aware of what their surroundings are and that a distracted pedestrian is a step away from walking in front of the bus," said Vidal.

Public safety on the streets is the focus of the city's "Vision Zero" initiative to end traffic deaths and injuries.

MTA officials point to their training results to demonstrate their commitment to accident prevention.

In 1988 there were 92 collisions per million miles. A steady decline over two decades led to 46 collisions per million miles last year.

"We're constantly trying to build programs that will drive that number down to zero," added Vidal.

One program employs a state-of-the-art bus simulator, where veteran operators like Jason Salazar sharpen their skills.

"He really gets an opportunity to say I could have done this differently and hopefully the result is that he has a successful session," explains Vidal.

The simulator is not just for veteran bus drivers, though.

Eyewitness News' own Tim Fleischer demonstrated that even novice bus drivers learn through the simulator ? proving that it is no easy task by slamming on the brakes and thumping a disabled car during his simulation.

If the MTA can run a sophisticated training program to lower the number of accidents, the question lingers: can other agencies with fleets follow suit?

Vidal said the program has already drawn interest.

"We have actually met with folks from the Department of Transportation 'Vision Zero' group and they were intrigued with our concept of preventability," said Vidal.

That prevention begins when operators first start driving and continues after years on the job.