We’ve been hearing for years about the wondrous benefits that the multimillion dollar Bus 2.0 system would bring both drivers and riders of MVTA buses on which it was deployed. The system, originally developed by the University of Minnesota’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute to aid in snowplowing, was retrofitted to work on buses instead and has required investment in a simulator which Rosemount’s Mayor noted was like a Valleyfair ride, $50,000 worth of on-bus advertisements, and has prompted awards even though it was delayed nearly a year and does not include everything originally promised.
On Wednesday March 30th I had my first opportunity to ride on a Bus 2.0 bus in which the system was active. While not all the Bus 2.0 system parts were in use on Bus #4580 (7:29 AM departure from AVTS’ northbound station), a mostly green colored screen sits to the left of the driver which shows the bus (as a long white line resembling a Pong paddle), thin grey/white colored lines in the road (shoulders or other lanes), and smaller blue lines which are moving obstacles detected around the bus’ perimeter. While I am not trained in the use of the system, I found the random appearance and disappearance of the surrounding cars to not only be a distraction but totally useless to determine where obstacles were in relation to the bus.
The Bus 2.0 system which, “helps bus drivers feel more confident blasting their way down narrow shoulder lanes,” appeared to do nothing of the sort as bus #4580′s driver that day mostly avoided shoulder running unless traffic was at a dead stop. When he did utilize the shoulder he was most certainly not confident and in fact between Cliff Rd and Diffley he ran off of the shoulder and into the dirt twice within a short distance–something the Bus 2.0 system is supposed to help drivers avoid as it keeps them within the boundaries of their shoulder lane. As the driver ran off the shoulder the bus, and its passengers, were jarred enough for me to notice both times and wonder just how effective a multimillion dollar system could be if in light traffic a driver couldn’t handle the road and ended up outside the safe shoulder. It may be important to note that never in my three years of riding MVTA buses have I had a driver hit the dirt shoulder while riding along Cedar during normal traffic/road conditions.
Interested to find out if it was the driver’s inexperience with buses or the system itself I contacted the MVTA and asked for the amount of time Bus 2.0 bus drivers spend in the Bus 2.0 simulator compared to regular drivers, a copy of the forward facing video of the bus’ trip between Cliff and Diffley, and the feed from the Bus 2.0 system itself showing the shoulders as well as the traffic around the bus, and whether driver feedback has been recorded regarding the Bus 2.0 simulator and its effectiveness in applications in the real world.
The MVTA’s Customer Service Manager, Robin Selvig, responded on March 31st with the following:
I contacted our Operations Staff first thing this morning regarding the video you identified, and have been informed that the forward-facing camera quit working sometime after the vehicle left the Apple Valley Transit Station, so have no video to which you referenced. We believe it may be a loose connection, but our fleet maintenance manager is checking into the situation so it can be corrected.
I will draft responses to your questions and get back to you, but unfortunately don’t have any video I can share.
Through research of the MVTA Bus 2.0 on-board video equipment I learned that there is another exterior camera (they only have exterior cameras on Bus 2.0 buses) which would likely show an angle which included the bus’ right wheel dipping into the dirt. Following my original denied request due to the forward-facing camera’s hardware issue, I sent this e-mail: “Since the camera I originally requested was offline, please pull the feed for the exterior camera over the entrance door instead and send along the video for it.”
Robin Selvig responded on 4/1 (and no, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke) with:
The Digital Video Recorder (DVR) for bus #4580 was pulled last night to try to fix the issue with the forward-facing camera. As part of the repair, there was an update to apply to the system so the DVR was wiped clean. There is no video to send to you.
These buses include expensive equipment which is meant to provide both drivers and riders with peace of mind as they go about, “blasting their way down narrow shoulder lanes,” yet there are loose connections and missing updates which disable video from being viewed later? What if a driver, ever so accustomed to the system, experienced a loose wire or missing update which returned faulty data and thus caused an accident or injuries to riders on or outside the bus? Shouldn’t the MVTA and its third-party bus company be taking better care to ensure that its flagship buses are running at 100%?
What do you think about the viability of the Bus 2.0 system after a driver, trained within a week prior to March 30th’s dip into the dirt via the $637,000 simulator, could not successfully go about his “shoulder blasting”? How about the missing video and wiped DVR? Are you concerned that the MVTA, the bus company is, or both are covering up severe inadequacies with this taxpayer funded system? Are you concerned for your safety when riding in a Bus 2.0 bus if the drivers rely on a system which may not be providing what it promised? Whatever you have to say about the Bus 2.0 system failure on March 30th, 2011 go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.