Sun Link now training streetcar operators

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Sun Link has hired 18 street car operators and six in-fieldsupervisors who will manage the control center operations.  Training isnow underway, in several different phases.

The freshman class of street car operators was out looking over the street car,and learning how to operate the wheel chair ramp on Thursday afternoon.

Sun Link general manager Steve Bethel said all of the new hireswould go through 3-weeks of in class training, 40 hours of behind the wheeltraining or "stick training" as they call it, with a supervisor. Thenthey would have to operate the street car solo for 40 hours with no incidents,to get the green light of certification.  The process also includedseveral tests, both written, and hands on.

Bethel said they had been searching for operators who werefriendly, out-going, and those with experience handling heavy machines aroundtraffic.  Many of the new hires had previous transit or truck- drivingexperience.

Dexter Hall said he used to drive a Fed-Ex truck when he decidedto apply for job of street car operator.

"It drives differently, handles differently. Basically it's aone hand movement.  Once you get the proper training everything else fallsinto place," said Hall.

Bethel also gave Tucson News Now a sneak peak snapshot of insidethe control room which he called the "heartbeat" of theoperation.

Bethel had launched similar street car projects in Minneapolis,Seattle, and the Phoenix Metro.  This was his fourth official launch.Bethel said the challenges were similar in every city, with improperly parkedcars being an issue in every city they had launched the operation.

"We've been meeting now on a regular basis and trying tofigure out how we can get this resolved.  Even if we see an improperlyparked car that does not affect us, we've still been reporting it to Parkwiseand Tucson Police and letting them handle the towing and citation part ofthis," said Bethel.

He was hopeful once the street cars became a regular sight on theroads, drivers would learn to park within the lines.

We asked Bethel how much control a street car operator had overthe vehicle, was it similar to driving a bus and how easy would it be to stopthe car in it's tracks in case of an emergency?

"He has very good control.  In fact just as much controlas you have driving your car.  They stop relatively quick, but keep inmind they're 70,000 pounds empty so they need a little more room," saidBethel.

As for the rails, Bethel said the city sweepers would clean themout several times a week.  They would also have staff walking along therails looking for potential problems, and street car operators would be trainedto look for objects in the way as well.

What happens if there is a power outtage?  Bethel said thestreet cars could run up to 600 feet on battery power, that would be enough toclear an intersection.

As for lightning, Bethel said they had several lightning rods inplace, and that was not a safety concern.

Sun Link expects to receive at least two more street cars byMay.  By late summer, Bethel hoped to have 7-8 street cars running inrevenue service.

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