The bus pulls to the side as it approaches a commuter waiting on a bus stop, tapping his feet impatiently. Once the passenger is on board, Doris Trapani switches on the indicator to pull out and while, she waits as a string of cars zoom by without any sign of abating, it starts hailing.

Sitting behind her, instructor Dennis Desira monitors her alertness, increasing the flow of cars and changing the weather conditions at the touch of a button. He can do it thanks to a €250,000 simulator, the only one of its sort in Malta.

The equipment is the latest addition to Malta Public Transport’s training facilities for its 1,000 drivers in a bid to keep raising safety standards.

The simulator is a replica of the bus driver’s cabin, with the seat even offering a sensation of the real thing.

Just like on a bus, there is a button to tilt the vehicle for wheelchair users and the elderly and another one to open separate doors to allow passengers to board or alight. Once the passengers get on the bus, the driver can follow their movement from the rear-view mirror to make sure they take a seat before driving on.

Sitting in the €250,000-bus simulator driver’s cabin, Doris Trapani waits for passengers to board the bus.Sitting in the €250,000-bus simulator driver’s cabin, Doris Trapani waits for passengers to board the bus.

The simulator will never replace training on the road; however, the instructor can force the driver to deal with sudden dangerous situations without endangering anyone’s life. The instructor can make oncoming traffic drive faster or allow vehicles to go through crossroads without stopping. Collision with the bus can also be simulated. The fuel gauge can be made to fast approach the empty sign, commuters can be placed right in front of the bus and tyres can also be punctured. The aim always is to ensure the driver is fully focused.

In a couple of months’ time, the landscape driver’s view on the monitors will be changed to simulate Maltese roads, including local signage. That will give Mr Desira the opportunity to test a driver’s diligence on, say, narrow Siġġiewi roads. He can also test whether the driver would wear out the brakes on the Mellieħa route in the middle of summer when buses are loaded with passengers.

Use of the simulator is over and above the regular six-week training all MPT drivers receive.

Malta Public Transport instructor Dennis Desira explaining the dashboard to driver Doris Trapani before a simulation test drive. Photos: Mark Zammit CordinaMalta Public Transport instructor Dennis Desira explaining the dashboard to driver Doris Trapani before a simulation test drive. Photos: Mark Zammit Cordina

The simulator is not meant to replace the conventional on-the-road training but to complement it and assess the drivers’ skills, general manager Konrad Pulè told this newspaper, noting that such equipment had been tried and tested in other companies within the Autobuses de León group.

“As a company, we have a big responsibility to shoulder when it comes to ensuring safety on the road. Our drivers spend most of their time on buses and we felt the need to continue investing in their training,” he added.

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