Transportation

Halifax Transit rolls on with accessibility

Automated bus stop announcements are receiving positive feedback

All Halifax bus routes now have automated stop announcements.   Diana Foxall

Following a six-week pilot program, Halifax Transit has rolled out its automated bus stop announcements today on all municipal routes.

The announcements are another step forward in improving the Halifax Regional Municipality’s transit system and specifically benefits those who need a little extra help navigating the bus routes.

“The new automated bus announcement system is something that dramatically increases the accessibility and usability of transit,” says Jeffrey Blair of the accessibility advocate group It’s More Than Buses. “For people with visual and hearing impairments, or people who don’t necessarily know the transit system like visitors and tourists, it gives them that information to be able to get to their destination.”

Halifax Transit buses received a new GPS location systems in June, and plans were made to be able to provide an announcement service. The testing phase began in December 2016, and saw thirteen routes in the HRM try out the system.

Tiffany Chase, senior communications adviser for HRM, says the trial period provided an opportunity to iron out any kinks in the program and receive feedback from the public. Two issues jumped out immediately: announcements blaring on less crowded busses, and a bunch of announcements getting jammed up in the queue.

Chase says those problems have since been addressed.

“We made some initial adjustments to that volume to try and come up with that optimal level that wouldn’t be too loud for the majority of passengers,” she says. “But also allows those passengers who are relying on that information to be able to hear the announcement at every section of the bus.”

Chase says the technology team behind the announcements hopes to adjust the volume feature so that it can self-regulate on buses and respond to the amount of ambient noise.

Some riders have found the announcements are particularly helpful in the evening.

“For someone that just recently moved to Halifax, it was extremely useful, especially at night,” says Caroline Korbel, a Dalhousie graduate student.

Hannah Wilson, a fourth year Dalhousie student agrees.

“I feel like it’s a good idea because especially when it’s dark out at night and you can’t necessarily see what the next stop is,” she says. “It’s kind of nice to know and not have to be freaking out.”

While this initiative is expected to benefit all transit users, people with hearing or visual impairments may find the changes particularly helpful, Chase says.

“They’ll no longer need to rely on the bus operator or other passengers to know where they are in their trip, if they’re getting off at the right stop or if they’ve boarded the right bus,” she says. “And if you’re not a regular commuter taking the same route or two every single day and you’re new to the route, it certainly will assist you in knowing where you are on your trip.”

Transit users can share their thoughts on the new announcement system by calling 311 — the municipality’s first point of contact to discuss its programs and services — or by reaching out on Twitter to @hfxtransit.