Despite policy, B.C. Transit drivers rarely call out stops

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B.C. Transit drivers in Greater Victoria are supposed to announce the bus stops. It’s mandatory, B.C. Transit says.

It’s also not happening much. A B.C. Transit spokesman said in January that the rollout of the announcement effort, which started last year, is “going well.”

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But in my experience, bus stop announcing is rare. I’m not a daily bus rider, but I’m on them a lot — usually Route 6, along with 2, 8, 26, 50 and 70. When I’m on a bus with a driver who announces stops, it’s a little startling. The Canadian Federation of the Blind did an informal survey of its members in the fall of 2014 and found that during a one-week period, 80 per cent of drivers were not calling out stops.

The drivers’ union says driving and announcing don’t mix; it’s a safety hazard. B.C. Transit disagrees.

The push to announce is a reaction to a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruling, saying that B.C. Transit had to accommodate blind people by announcing upcoming stops.

Technology is ultimately the answer. In other cities, such as Vancouver, GPS-powered automated systems do the announcing. But B.C. Transit is hesitating in Victoria.

A B.C. Transit fact sheet explaining the bus stop call-out policy says: “It is estimated that it could cost up to $15,000 per bus to install the hardware for an automated system. Software and back-end programming would be an additional cost. . . . Before B.C. Transit considers approaching the taxpayers for a significant investment in technology, it is prudent to leverage the existing infrastructure while ensuring a high level of customer service.”

The $15,000-and-more estimate is indeed worth hesitating over. That kind of money will buy you a new car.

There must be less expensive alternatives for setting up something so basic. One idea I’ve heard: connect a GPS-enabled smartphone to the speaker system. Yes, this idea might have involved drinking and writing on a napkin, but it doesn’t need to be more complex than this.

$800 for a high-end smartphone.

$200 for a smartphone case and holder.

$200 for a power setup

$5 for an audio cable.

Hire a programmer to build a smartphone app that announces bus stops, piggybacking on Google Maps’ transit service. At a guess, $25,000 to $50,000. Sell that app to other bus systems.

There are also off-the-shelf apps that could be adapted, such as It’s My Stop, Blindsquare and Seeing Eye. The last two apps offer voice descriptions of what’s around you.

But B.C. Transit could have grander plans — perhaps a system that provides bus arrival times based on reality rather than the schedule, integrated with a bus-stop announcing system. Each bus would have hardware aboard to track and transmit its location, and riders would have access to that information, making catching the bus less frustrating. That could be worth closer to $15,000 a bus.

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A lot of people use Google Maps to figure out bus times and routes. I like the Transit App for iPhone and Android. It uses big type to show bus routes near you and how many minutes you need to wait for the next bus on that route. In Victoria, those minutes are based on the schedule. In other places with more sophisticated setups, it’s based on real time bus locations. The app has a lot of other features. You can dig deeper for a route’s full schedule, call up a map showing the stops, get a list of the stops with scheduled arrival time, and get directions, though Google Maps is better at that.

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Times Colonist article: Bus stops not called, Greater Victoria drivers disciplined

B.C. Transit: Frequently Asked Questions — Calling Stops Policy

Canadian Federation of the Blind: B.C. Transit calling out bus stops

UVic Connec4 Smart Bus System proposal

Examples of transit-aware apps that have a voice function. I haven’t tried them; I don’t know if they have Victoria information.

Blindsquare, GPS app for the blind and visually impaired. “It describes the environment, announces points of interest and street intersections as you travel.”

Seeing Eye, GPS app for the blind and visually impaired. “. . . with all the normal navigation features plus features unique to blind users.”

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