Specialized Training Boosts Technicians' Hybrid Bus Knowledge

Posted on April 21, 2009 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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[IMAGE]Maintenance.jpg[/IMAGE]As the technologies that go into building buses continue to evolve at a rapid pace, technicians have the unenviable task of playing catch up.

With the oft-mentioned gap in tech training continuing to widen, the growing interest and purchase of hybrid buses is adding yet another issue that transit agencies must tackle in their garages — essentially, getting up to speed on vehicles that require technicians to have a much broader working knowledge.

“In terms of being able to work on this equipment, you are really talking about two main disciplines in the repair area, bus technology and rail technology coming together because of the amount of ITS and electronic equipment on buses these days.  It is not normal to see that mix in our industry until now,” says David Stumpo, program manager for the Southern California Regional Transit Training Consortium (SCRTTC). “Usually, you are either a good electronic technician or you are a good diesel or gasoline technician. You don’t normally see somebody that is good at both.”

California going green  

With California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations restricting the use of diesel-fueled vehicles, area transit agencies have turned to alternative-fuels, such as compressed and liquefied natural gases (CNG, LNG), to propel their fleets in the future. With a growing concern for being greener, many, such as Long Beach Transit (LBT), have chosen gasoline-electric hybrid buses to meet the challenge.

“LBT currently has 62 gasoline-electric hybrid coaches in service and is in the process of accepting 25 more coaches,” explains Rolando Cruz, executive director/vice president, maintenance and facilities at LBT. The agency is planning on replenishing its entire fleet with gasoline-electric buses as older vehicles come up for replacement, with LBT expecting to retire its last diesel coach by 2015.

The interest in hybrid technology is also growing at many other California transit agencies, with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority, as well as agencies in the cities of Santa Monica, Montebello, Norwalk and Gardena, using, or planning to use, the same gasoline-electric buses on their streets.

“Now, there are other transit systems around the country that are putting hybrid buses into service, but the majority of those use diesel-electric technology,” says Stumpo. “There are slight differences between gasoline and diesel engine knowledge, but either way, there is a national need for hybrid bus training.”

Developing Training  

Stepping in to help provide California-based agency technicians with the proper training they will need to deal with this new world of buses, the SCRTTC, a group comprised of public transportation agencies and college members located in Southern California, has teamed with LBT; ISE Corp., supplier of the gasoline-electric systems; and its own group of college academics to create a comprehensive training course.

“We partnered up with the Advanced Technology Transportation Energy Initiative, which is part of the California workforce development out of the statewide chancellor’s office, and they will fund pieces of the development along with SCRTTC in putting together this hybrid curriculum,” says Stumpo. “Once the curriculum is developed in concert with the three entities, we have this kind of mini consortium of consortiums working to put together the three phases.”

The three phases of development — design of the program, building of the actual curriculum and the delivery of that curriculum — has thus far been an extensive process for all the involved parties.

“Because of the discipline being so new, we wanted to take our time and get it right, so it’s taken about 18 months to develop the gasoline-electric hybrid course,” says Stumpo, whose Aptrex Institute manages the contract to the SCRTTC. “A normal course can usually be built within a six-month timeframe.”

Stumpo adds that because there was a limitation in terms of how many people actually utilize hybrids, the group was working with a small number of experienced people, which made it much more difficult and time-consuming to be able to put together the learning objectives and courseware.

The collective group has worked on a curriculum, which should be ready this fall, that focuses on the entire operation of the hybrid system, including electronics, component identification, energy storage, manual discharge, regenerative braking and energy flow, as well as the cooling system. The course is administered in an academic setting by a college-certified instructor.

“SCRTTC has played a key role in helping coordinate the manufacturer, a local college and our internal training department to create a series of hybrid classes,” says Cruz. “You know four experts are going to create a much better class than one.”

The process the group will go through after development of the courses includes validating the course against learning objectives, developing the courseware, beta class delivery and train the trainer, and the certification of its instructors.

The SCRTTC delivers the courses depending on need and capacity at the transit site or on the college campus of one of its members.

“We’re able to deliver around the Southern California region pretty much anywhere, anytime,” says Stumpo.

Interested technicians can register through a simple process via the Web, with any SCRTTC member able to take the courses free of charge, thanks to funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) research and technology arm.

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