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Talking buses pilot project to get rolling

Audio system to announce stops

‘Every driver has a mouth,’ critic says


The TTC’s talking buses will get moving next month amid criticism the transit authority is “dragging its feet” on the issue of making the system easier to use for the blind.

As part of a six-month pilot project, 15 buses on the Bayview 11 route will have audio systems that use global positioning technology to automatically announce all stops, while displaying the same information — including significant addresses such as hospitals and schools — on a monitor near the driver. There will also be symbols and buzzers announcing “accessible” stops for those with walking challenges.

“During September, we’ll be looking for feedback from the users, those who have challenges and those who don’t,” said Bob Boutilier, the TTC’s deputy manager of surface routes.

If all goes well, the global positioning technology could be expanded to the TTC’s 1,500 buses and 250 streetcars to announce all 10,000 surface stops at an estimated cost of $3.5 million to $4 million.

The project is in part a response to mounting criticism that the TTC ignores those with accessibility needs, but it doesn’t go far enough for David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer who has battled the transit authority for a decade.

In June, Lepofsky won a human rights tribunal decision forcing the TTC to make consistent, clear subway stop announcements. The tribunal ruled that the TTC discriminated against visually impaired riders by not regularly announcing upcoming stops.

Following the ruling, the TTC hired Matthew Garfield, a human rights advocate, to oversee the installation of an automated subway announcement system by the end of 2006.

But Lepofsky says there’s no point in waiting for the talking bus pilot project.

“You don’t have to be a Harvard grad to know if you’ve got to announce subway stops, you’ve got to announce bus stops,” said Lepofsky. “It’s not that complicated.

“Every bus has a driver, every driver has a mouth: ask them to announce each stop.”

Current TTC policy calls for bus drivers to call out major stops and any stops that are requested. But Lepofsky said they often forget.

“The simple solution is have the bus and streetcar operators call out all stops, not just by request,” he said.

Boutilier says it’s not that simple. Bus drivers new to routes may not know all the stops. And volume, enunciation and accent can vary from driver to driver. For consistency’s sake, Boutilier would rather have an automated system.

“I want to make sure whatever we do works,” he said. “I don’t want to start something off here and it comes across as a good intention but not sustainable.”