Riding Metro Transit buses is about to get a bit more user friendly as the agency this month begins rolling out new automated audio and digital announcements that feature information about routes, destinations and landmarks.

Each time the driver opens the front door, a recording will announce to passengers waiting on the curb the route number, direction of travel and its destination. It also will remind them to have their fare ready.

Inside the bus, a female voice will inform riders when the bus is approaching a stop, one of 200 landmarks and key transfer points for riders who need to catch other buses. Digital messages with the same messages will scroll across a screen at the front of the bus, said Jason Podany, automated bus announcement project manager.

The American Disabilities Act requires transit agencies to announce bus stops, transfer points and major intersections and destinations. It also requires agencies to provide means by which those with a visual impairment to identify their bus. Currently that is left up to Metro Transit drivers, of which "some are good, and others not so much," Podany told the Met Council's Transportation Committee on Monday during a presentation explaining the system. "Hopefully this will help."

The system is being tested on Routes 10, 17 and 18 and on the Red Line BRT, which runs along Cedar Avenue between the Mall of America and Apple Valley. Announcements are expected to be added to 11 High Frequency Routes by October, 53 urban and suburban routes by November and 72 express routes by December. About 70 percent of buses will have the announcements by the end of the year, with the entire fleet equiped by 2017, Podany said.

Metro Transit is still seeking a vendor to provide the service, but that should be settled soon, said spokesman Drew Kerr. The cost is not to exceed $50,000, he said.

When the system is fully implemented, it will feature 15,000 messages, including 8,700 transfer points outside the downtown areas and 200 landmarks such as schools, hospitals and stadiums. That should aid passengers who ride at night or on unfamiliar routes.

"This should be an impovement as a wayfinding service," Podany said.

All the messages will be in English for now. Metro Transit said future revisions could include announcements in other languages, downtown transfer points and interval points such as "approaching 694" and points without bus stops.

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