Letter to AC Transit's Talking Buses


I understand you're piloting a program to have the buses make more announcements along their route. I would like to offer feedback and my opinion of the system.

I have only been riding the transbay buses recently, and I can understand that the use case for a transbay commuter bus is different than a local bus. Take my comments with the appropriate context, and understand that they are specifically geared towards the transbay bus experience.

First, constructive feedback:
* the announcements are too loud. The transbay bus in the morning is a quiet and relaxing experience. One of the great benefits over riding bart is that serenity. The announcements are loud and jarring, especially in a bus filled with half-awake and silent people.
* the announcements are inappropriate for the physical bus and pattern of activity. Nobody gets off this bus except when it arrives in San Francisco. Despite the fact that nobody is getting off, the bus tells us all to use the rear doors repeatedly. It doesn't even time the announcement adjacent to when we are arriving at a stop - we'll be driving along the freeway and be told to exit through the rear doors. That just doesn't make any sense at all. To top it off, the bus doesn't even have rear doors! We all exit through the front door when we arrive in San Francisco.
* the announcements are too frequent. By the time we arrive in san francisco, every passenger has heard the same announcement multiple times. I can understand that in an environment where people are boarding and disembarking on a continual basis, frequent repetitions of the message make sense. That is not the pattern of use on the transbay buses.

Second, my opinion:
These messages are annoying and unnecessary. We live in a world where we're constantly being told "it's not safe" and "be careful, coffee is actually hot." Airports and BART stations are already inundated with mindless notifications about how cameras are not a guarantee against criminal activity, about how everybody's out to get us and we must be constantly vigilant; do we really need to hear this while we're on buses as well? Can we not restrict the drone of noise that nobody listens to anyways to places of transit instead of the vehicles themselves? Can you imagine boarding an airplane, only to be told every 10 minutes throughout your flight that your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device, and tampering with the smoke detectors is punishable by law? It would drive even the most dedicated travelers to insanity.

I applaud the sound systems in modern buses and trains that clearly announce the intersections or stations as they arrive. It is a vast improvement over the crackly PA systems into which drivers used to mumble place names. I appreciate it as a local, and I'm sure that visitors do so ten times over.

Playing an announcement asking passengers to exit through the rear doors when arriving at a stop with a crowded bus makes a lot of sense. Put systems in the bus to understand when it's full and when we are approaching a bus stop, and only play the announcements when appropriate. If the announcement only comes when it is appropriate, people may actually listen.

But I beg you, for the sake of sanity and personal responsibility, please remove repeated announcements telling me to be aware of my surroundings and to be suspicious of my fellow passengers. We don't need even more fear mongering in our current society.

Thank you for your time, and I hope you take my comments to heart. Though I'm sure a minority of passengers actually write you to give you their opinion, I can tell you that every time the announcements come on my ride in yesterday and today, I saw people wince, grimace, grumble, and express their exacerbation to their fellow passengers.