Talking Buses to Help Those With Disabilities

Jonathan Charlton
Saskatoon Star-Phoenix , Nov. 5, (2015

Saskatoon Transit showed off its new automatic announcement system to reporters on Wednesday. The service provides a verbal announcement and visual cue for upcoming bus stops.

“As an organization, we’re excited about the changes,” said Andy Livingston of the Human Rights Commission.

The cues will help people with disabilities such as visual impairment or deafness who face many challenges trying to use Saskatoon’s bus service, he said.

“There’s security challenges as well as orientation, for someone who’s visually impaired to be able to tell where they’re going,” he said.

Helping people navigate the city, get groceries and participate in the community is “huge,” he said.

The cues are also meant to help new residents, tourists and seniors.

The system is active on 95 per cent of the city’s 158 buses. Testing began this summer. About 95 per cent of the system works, although a few GPS tweaks are still needed, Saskatoon Transit Director Jim McDonald said.

The system helps riders with disabilities without making them feel different from other riders, but everyone benefits, he said.

In case of technical difficulties, the drivers will announce major intersections. The city bought the equipment in 2008, but it’s taken until now to get it up and running due to administrative difficulties, he said. In addition to the announcement system, buses now include other accessibility features. These include a kneeling system that lowers the front of the bus, and extendable ramp, extra wide entrances, floor anchors for mobility devices, a lighting and colour scheme to help visually impaired riders, and digital signage displaying stop locations and stop requests.

The total cost to retrofit old buses with the whole accessibility package is $12,000. It comes equipped on new buses.


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