Now that all TTC vehicles are equipped to automatically announce upcoming stops, attention is turning to transit agencies outside 416.
In July 2007, an Ontario Human Rights tribunal ordered Toronto’s transit commission to ensure all bus and streetcar stops are called out, and the TTC has finally installed audio and visual announcement devices throughout its surface network.
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I suspect many in Toronto now appreciate the advance warnings — or have learned to tune them out — but not everyone initially welcomed the extra noise on board. Imagine the reaction in smaller transit systems across the province where many passengers take the same bus every day and know exactly when to disembark.
Outside the biggest cities, many bus drivers are probably aware of their regular riders and can handle special requests with relative ease, including from people with visual impairments. It may seem inappropriate to apply a rule designed for the country’s busiest system in other localities.
Some agencies are already planning to spend millions to install visual displays and automated recordings like the TTC’s. This will eventually help anyone who is unfamiliar with a route, but in the meantime could inspire resistance from drivers who now have to memorize and announce every stop along the way.
It may seem like a lot of effort to expend for a small number of riders, but put yourself in the place of someone who must ask that a particular stop be called out. Most times this works fine — but what happens when the driver becomes distracted and forgets? Mistakes happen, but simply expecting a blind patron to cross the street (or suburban artery) and take a bus in the opposite direction is not acceptable, especially along infrequent or isolated routes.
The provincial Human Rights Commission reported last week that three-quarters of Ontario’s transit providers plan to ensure every stop is called by this fall, and 25 of about 40 have “committed to begin announcing all stops by June 30.”
It would be unfortunate if these changes stirred resentment against the same people who simply want to travel their communities more freely.
In retrospect, this formal but clumsy process might have unfolded differently if so many bus drivers in Toronto (and elsewhere) had not abandoned the calling of major stops. While not foolproof, I suspect the practice helps both driver and passenger remember and anticipate specially requested stops.
GO Transit employees apparently never gave up on calling major destinations — which could explain why virtually no complaints were registered in recent years from people who missed their request stop because the bus driver forgot to speak up.
In accordance with the human rights ruling, the TTC has also announced a public forum on accessibility Tuesday, May 20, at 7 p.m. at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Go to ttc.ca for details.