Calling Out Bus Stops Now a Human Right

May 15, 2010
Road Ahead column by Jeff Outhit

Grand River Transit is spending $2.5 million to improve service for blind and deaf passengers.

That's the cost to buy more technology to automate the announcement of bus stops, using speakers and digital readouts. By October, 161 buses (74 per cent of the fleet) will have this technology, already in use on express routes. All buses are planned to have it by 2014 as older buses are replaced.

Regional council hopes this will fend off a potential prosecution by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The commission says announcing stops is an immediate need and it's not good enough for drivers to call stops on request, as they do now. This follows a landmark ruling won by a blind Toronto passenger in 2007.

Annual staffing costs for the new technology will eventually reach $260,000. It would have been much cheaper to have drivers call out all bus stops. But drivers refused, forcing a health and safety review that has yet to conclude. Automated announcements are now seen as the best resolution.

It's expensive but seems the best way forward for three reasons.  

There's little to be gained in opposing a human rights demand that originated elsewhere but is not unreasonable. While some drivers can surely call out stops, it's impractical to require all drivers to call out all stops, all the time. Too often drivers are busy with traffic, bad weather, and noise. They don't need another distraction.

New technology will improve transit for all passengers in many ways.

Satellite tracking of all buses is required to automate announcements. Knowing where all buses are at all times helps keep buses on schedule. The technology can be further developed to tell passengers when their bus will arrive, in real time. It can help plan better bus routes, minimize delays, and speed responses when buses break down.

This is all good. But realistically, better technology will not likely draw many more passengers from their cars.

This shift will happen when Grand River Transit is seen as a competitive way to travel. To achieve this, politicians will have to buy a lot more buses and run them a lot more often to a lot more places. At the same time, traffic congestion will have to get so bad that people will no longer want to drive if they can avoid it.

Honestly, we're decades away from anything that.

Jeff Outhit can be reached at 519-895-5642 or jouthit@therecord.com

Reproduced from http://news.therecord.com/article/712087

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