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Metro Transit buses will automatically announce stops, route info

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Twin Cities buses will soon start self-announcing bus stops.

Metro Transit announced this week it has started to implement new automated audio and digital announcements on its bus fleet. These pre-recorded announcements are expected to help hearing and visually impaired riders, as well as meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Buses will make external and internal announcements informing riders of the bus route, transfers, bus stops and when a stop is requested, as required by the ADA. Currently, making these announcements is left up to the bus operator, a system which can be unreliable, the Star Tribune notes.

External announcements will be made every time the bus operator opens the door to help those waiting at a bus stop. The announcement will say the route, branch, direction and destination of the bus.

Metro Transit says volumes for external announcements will be lowered from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Inside the bus, the announcement will tell riders when the bus is approaching a stop (it's activated by GPS), key transfer points for riders who plan to take another bus and notable landmarks, as well as when a stop is requested.

Digital messages will also scroll across a screen at the front of the bus detailing the verbal announcements (photo at left).

A female voice will be used to inform riders, Metro Transit says, because male voices are used for safety related messages. The organization notes it'll use text-to-speech software to make the announcements, which is less expensive and will ensure a stable voice. It is currently reviewing bids for the software, which will be paid for by a federal grant.

Metro Transit says announcements are currently being tested on routes 10, 17, 18 and Red Line BRT service, and by the end of 2014, 69 percent (664 of the 960 buses) will be announcement ready. Metro Transit adds that the entire fleet of buses will be announcement ready by 2017.

When the system is fully implemented, Metro Transit says it will feature 15,000 messages, including 8,700 transfers (except in the downtown fare zone, which accounts for 80,000 transfers) and 200 landmarks, which will be chosen by the Transit Information Center department.

The Star Tribune says landmarks will include schools, hospitals and stadiums, which should help passengers who ride at night or are unfamiliar with the route. Officials have compared this to a "way-finding service," the newspaper says.

The messages are just in English for now, but Metro Transit says adding additional languages may be a consideration in the future. Other considerations include: announcing controlled intersections without bus stops, per ADA requirements; improved "interval" announcements per ADA requirements – i.e. "approaching Interstate 694" and add downtown transfer information.

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