I ride a Metro Transit bus to work, and the other day I was immersed in a novel when the automated onboard announcement system told me my bus was approaching Nicollet Mall. That was my signal that it was time to put down the page-turner, zip up my coat and get off the bus.
The only problem was that the bus was at Hennepin Avenue.
Another passenger who appeared to be unfamiliar with the Route 14 bus and downtown Minneapolis itself had a quizzical look on her face and started to get off. The driver saved the day, telling her that Nicollet was actually the next stop.
Turns out that was not an isolated case. A Route 18 rider told the Drive the system announced that the bus was approaching Chicago Avenue when it actually was headed west on 31st Street near Blaisdell Avenue. On my route, the system seems to lag at times, too. Last week, again with my nose buried in a book, the system told me I was approaching Emerson Avenue and a transfer point to Route 5. I looked up to see the bus actually rolling up to Lyndale Avenue, several blocks to the east.
The GPS-controlled system did make amends, quickly rattling off a couple more streets, then said “Lyndale Avenue, transfer point to Route 22” as the bus pulled away.
Chalk it up to a big oops, and a problem that could cause riders to get off at the wrong stop or at minimum cause confusion. Metro Transit says it’s working to fix it.
“The vast majority of announcements work as intended, but we do have occasions when they are inaccurate or delayed,” spokesman Howie Padilla said. “We are trying to determine why those happen and troubleshoot the issues, and see if there are any commonalities. We want to hear from riders when they notice inaccuracies.”
Padilla said reps are deploying a software patch that could be in place by the end of next week. “It is expected that this will largely address the issue.”
Not a lone communication issue
While they are at it, let’s hope they can address another issue: Messages sometimes get cut off if somebody pulls the cord to request a stop while an announcement is in mid-sentence.
Automated announcements and digital messages with the same information debuted in 2014. They were added to make it easier for riders to find their way and to comply with the American Disabilities Act. The act requires transit agencies to announce bus stops, transfer points, major landmarks and intersections, and popular destinations to help visually impaired passengers know where they are. They also can be helpful at night for all riders when darkness can prevent passengers from reading street signs.
The announcements, when working properly, dovetail with Metro Transit’s move to become easier to use. Over the past couple years, the area’s largest public transit agency has added shelters and improved bus stops with signs that feature maps and service frequency.
While we’re talking improvement, here’s something to look forward to: Metro Transit is developing an app to enhance trip planning capabilities and getting real-time departure information for those on mobile devices. More than 70 percent of those accessing the agency’s website do so with mobile devices, the agency said.