It’s been a pretty good week doing training on the specialty buses in the fleet. I was pretty much excited to train on every bus so far (with the exception of the trolley), but only one bus remained in the fleet: the NABI 60-BRT CNG.
Known to all drivers as the “PRIMO,” this bus runs on route 100 up and down Fredericksburg Road from downtown to the Medical Center. This was VIA’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) route, and also their first articulated buses ever. Every driver I’ve talked to say driving this bus is easy. They tell me “it’s like driving a 40-foot bus with a trailer attached.” And they were right: not only is this bus fun to ride, it’s a little bit fun to drive.
The first day of training on this bus included an overview of the features on the bus, how to make turns properly, and how to park in the yard. After the presentation it was time to practice turns at the training facility. Then by about mid-morning, the fun would begin. For whatever reason my instructor likes to make me drive out first, so I had the privilege of driving out from the training facility once again. The bus handled well as the steering was a little bit stiff and the driver’s area was semi-comfortable. The real downside was the foot controls. The gas/brake pedals are too far forward that I can barely reach, even with the seat all the way forward. As for the turn signals, they are too far back towards the seat. That means my right leg is extended as far as it can go while my left leg is hitting the turn signals that are almost directly underneath my seat.
Let’s talk about blind spots: this bus is worse than the second generation NABI’s. Again, the design of those side triangular windows is horrible as they only create more blind spots than usual. But the biggest blind spot is the driver’s side mirror. When I look out of my window, there is this huge mirror right there blocking my view of everything. You really have to rock and roll in that seat to get a good view of everything on the left side. On top of that, I have to drive with my window open all the time as the knob in the window itself gets in the way of my mirror.
Getting up to speed was a bit of a setback, but I can understand as the bus weighs nearly 70,000 lbs. It took a good while to reach 30 MPH from a stop and on the freeway it took about a mile or so to reach 55 MPH. I only ever reached 60 MPH when I was about to get off the freeway some 6 miles later. Speaking of highway, that was the worst experience I’ve had driving any bus so far. It wasn’t entirely windy on this day (around 10 MPH or so), but it was enough to really push the bus around. I definitely had a hard time trying to stay in my lane.
Another weird feeling the articulation joint. It’s kind of hard to describe but hitting bumps in the road or starting and stopping makes the bus bounce around and jerk. That back half of the bus really feels like a trailer is attached and it pulls on the front half of the bus, making the bus bend if you will and cause the jerking. It’s just a strange feeling when driving that I didn’t really like.
Day 2 of training was just taking turns driving on routes 100 and 101, and practicing making service stops at regular bus stops and stations. I drove on the 101 heading inbound from the UTSA campus to the Medical Center Transit Center. That meant taking the access road of LP 1604, servicing University Park & Ride, and taking IH 10 to Fredericksburg Road to the transit center. I had quite a few left and right turns which was definitely good practice. Luckily this time I didn’t have any issues on the freeway with the wind.
Servicing stops on these buses is way different. I was taught to line up the curb at the very bottom of the window on the front door. You can’t do that on these buses, especially when making stops at stations which have the higher platform that’s level with the bus. Instead you have to look at your right side mirror and just ride the curb the whole time your coming to a stop. You really have to be careful as sometimes the stations are offset inwards from the street, making the rear of the bus about a foot from the curb. You also have to make sure you don’t scrape the curb with the very front of the bus when approaching a stop, which apparently happens a lot.
Overall this bus was ok to drive, but is wasn’t my favorite. It has too many cons for me to enjoy driving it, but I do have fun riding it as a passenger. The best good thing I can say is that I was able to drive a 60-foot bus, the largest vehicle I have (and probably ever will) drive in my lifetime.