By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver SunMay 26, 2009
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,
“Ding, ding, ding went the bell,
“Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings,
“As we started for Huntington Dell….”
The beginning of The Trolley Song, famously sung by Judy Garland in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis.
There isn’t a Huntington Dell stop on any of the Coast Mountain Bus Company’s routes, but these days there’s plenty of clanging and dinging — zinging, alas, isn’t provided.
A month ago the bus company introduced an automated “clang” — reminiscent of an old trolley bell — to its repertoire of auditory prompts for passengers.
It sounds out ahead of that unearthly female voice that calls out the stops the bus is approaching in an ingratiating, android-like tone that seems to express constant surprise at getting it right.
The clang is a warning that a stop is about to be announced, which gives a heads-up to blind and handicapped people waiting for their stop.
TransLink’s Drew Snider said Tuesday it replaces the “ding” that the bus company had initially used but discarded because it was too close to the “ding” that sounds when commuters pull the cord or press the button to get off at the next stop.
“It was getting a bit confusing,” Snider admitted.
The whole business of clangs and dings and automated voices is the result of bus drivers not wanting to announce stops, said Rob Sleath, chairman of Access for Sight Impaired Consumers and a member of TransLink’s transit user advisory committee.
“We’ve tried for years to get drivers to announce stops,” said Sleath, who is visually impaired. “There were a handful of drivers who did a beautiful job of calling them out, but most rarely did it.”
Blind people on a bus have no idea where they are and need help to disembark at the right stop, he said.
“We’d ask the driver to call out our stop, but if they didn’t, we were the ones with the problem,” said Sleath, who helps train new transit drivers on how to deal with blind and handicapped people.
Two years ago Coast Mountain placed a GPS system on its buses and Sleath’s organization asked if an automated system for announcing the stops in advance could be built into it.
“They agreed, but we then found that just calling out the name of the stop would catch some people by surprise, so we asked if they could install a chime sound just before to warn people a stop was being called,” said Sleath.
Again Coast Mountain complied, but the chime was too similar to the one that sounds out when a commuter asks for the next stop and was causing confusion for drivers, he said.
So back to the sounding board.
“There were a whole range of sounds available and we suggested the drivers pick the one they wanted, but for some reason they wouldn’t make a decision,” Sleath explained.
“In the end Coast Mountain asked us to choose one and we picked the trolley sound. It’s what people old enough to remember the old street cars in Vancouver would have heard.”