When Ali Najah drives the 55 bus out of the indoor bus stop on Teknikgatan, it is time for the day’s fifth and last journey. The route is part of the ElectriCity partnership and it runs from the innovation-focused area of Lindholmen, via Gothenburg city centre to Chalmers University of Technology.
“I have been driving buses on route 55 since it opened four years ago and I can’t imagine a better job. I meet so many people and, what’s more, driving these buses is extremely comfortable,” says Ali Najah.
The steering has the greatest impact on how your body feels after a shift. VDS does a great job!
In 2017, the buses on route 55 were equipped with Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS), a unique Volvo solution designed to provide drivers with extra support when operating heavy-duty vehicles and buses.The system automatically compensates for bumps and unevenness in the road and vibrations. When driving at low speeds, steering wheel resistance is reduced by around 75 per cent. In addition, the steering wheel automatically self-centres after cornering.
Ali Najah says that he has experienced a real difference in his working environment since he started driving buses with VDS.
“The steering has the greatest impact on how your body feels after a shift. VDS does a great job! When I drive buses on route 55, I never have pain in my shoulders or headaches after a working day and I haven’t had a day off sick since I started here,” says Ali Najah.
Studies conducted by the VTI (the Swedish National Road and Transport Administration) in 2016 reveal a general reduction of 20-30 per cent in muscle activity when drivers operate vehicles with VDS. In some manoeuvres, a reduction in muscular strain of as much as 70 per cent was seen.
To coincide with the introduction of the system on route 55, Chalmers initiated a long-term study of the effects of VDS, financed by the Västra Götaland Region.
“Buses are difficult to steer and this means that working as a bus driver requires a great deal of physical strength. We were given the opportunity to test VDS in a real-life situation and to follow the drivers over a long period,” explains Lars-Ola Bligård, researcher at Design & Human Factors/Industrial and Materials Science at Chalmers.
In this study, Lars-Ola Bligård and his colleagues followed 14 drivers for about 1.5 years. In an anonymous questionnaire, the drivers were asked to describe their physical problems prior to the installation of VDS and after six months, a year and 17 months.
Chalmers was able to follow a total of six people throughout the study. Nine drivers participated during the space of one year.
“In the last interview session, we found that all the drivers had an extremely positive attitude to VDS,” says Lars-Ola Bligård.
Six of nine bus drivers in the study felt that their tiredness and pain had been reduced since they started to drive buses with VDS. The others experienced no pronounced change.
“We also saw positive results when it came to the drivers’ assessments of their problems in their arms, elbows, hands and wrists. There was a marked reduction and this is clearly associated with lighter steering,” explains Lars-Ola Bligård.
In the last interview session, we found that all the drivers had an extremely positive attitude to VDS.
During the interviews, several of the drivers made spontaneous comments on VDS. “Fantastic”, “This steering is worth its weight in gold!”, “Makes my day”, “Absolutely the best development ever” are just some of the comments mentioned in the study.
Lars-Ola Bligård thinks it is important that vehicle manufacturers like Volvo Buses develop solutions that help to create a better work environment.
“Bus drivers spend the whole of their working day behind the wheel. By including ergonomics at an early stage of development, our drivers can continue to work for longer, as well as making it easier to recruit new ones,” he says.
Chalmers will continue to study the effects of VDS and Lars-Ola Bligård’s research team has just initiated a two-year study of route 60 in Gothenburg. This route will be fully electric in December 2019 and, in conjunction with this, the buses will be equipped with VDS. “Unlike route 55, this one has a lot of hills and corners and, what’s more, it operates round the clock. It’s going to be really exciting to see what the drivers on this route think of VDS,” he says.
It is time for Ali Najah to finish his shift and hand over to the next driver. “Even though I have been working for eight hours, I don’t feel anything in my body. In fact, it feels as though I have hardly done any work,” he says.
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