Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's like a FPS — that costs $500,000

A cellphone-made photo of me behind the wheel of SamTrans' bus simulator at the agency's North Base. With me is SamTrans training manager Jeff Johnson. Photo by Ed Proctor

After tonight's SamTrans Citizen's Advisory Committee meeting — at which my cohorts unanimously passed my resolution accepting the need for a 2009 fare increase, but noting certain reservations — members took a tour of SamTrans' North Base facility, near San Francisco International Airport.

We saw the sprawling storage yard, maintenance garages, brake testing machines, dispatch center and crew facilities. But the most interesting thing on the tour was SamTrans' bus simulator, for which I was lucky enough to get a turn.

Made by a company that also makes flight simulators, the bus simulator provided a fairly realistic experience. You are surrounded 360 degrees by video screens, realistic sounds, force feedback on the steering wheel and vibrations resembling a diesel engine emanating from under the seat. A computer can simulate real traffic and weather conditions and I "drove" in a heavy urban setting, complete with heavy rain and suffocating fog (or, as I call it, summer in Daly City).

Driving a bus is a little more difficult than driving a car, or even a U-Haul truck (the biggest vehicle I have actually driven). The length of the vehicle makes tight turns very difficult, the heavy mass makes it almost impossible to stop quickly and smoothly and the power of the diesel engine is deceptive. Despite getting a mild case of vertigo (reminicent of playing Doom), I drove the equivalent of a couple miles and did fairly well: three curb strikes; five missed turn signals, mostly while changing lanes (the turn signals were in an unfamiliar place — the floorboard); one dead pedestrian.

To be fair, the last one was on purpose. Really.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Keep this photo, Monsieur Baker. It's prophetic. This will be you forty years from now, driving the bus in a small town that you are a vocal participant of during town hall meetings.