Before navigating his transit bus back into the flow of traffic in downtown Victoria, Gerry Leahy grabs a hand-held radio and calls out the next major stop for his passengers.
There hasn’t been a policy in place to call out major stops on transit routes in Greater Victoria since electric streetcars trundled through Victoria, Esquimalt and Oak Bay, from the early 1890s to 1948.
In calling out stops, Leahy now has something else in common with his grandfather, who likely called out stops when he drove streetcars; as well as with his father, who started with the streetcar company and later drove buses.
“I think it’s a good experiment and idea, to see if we can help people get to their stops a little easier without letting one slip by them,” said Leahy, who last Friday celebrated his 25th anniversary with B.C. Transit.
The call-out initiative, unveiled the day before, was a suggestion from a number of riders that came in over Twitter two months ago.
“It’s about building that great connection between our drivers and their passengers,” said Meribeth Burton, B.C. Transit spokesperson. “We want the experience to be fun, convenient and pleasant.”
Dorothy Wapola, a Victoria resident who regularly takes the bus, said some seniors and people who are visually impaired may appreciate advance notice about a stop so they have time to get ready.
Visitors to the Garden City will also benefit.
“They’re going to ask anyway or sit there and look blank as they whiz pass the stop. I’ve seen them do that before,” Wapola said. “It’s going to be a help for them.”
Though riders can still request drivers to call out certain stops, bus operators will be required to call out major stops under the new program.
“There’s going to be a learning curve,” Burton said, adding that drivers are receiving safety training on delivering call-outs. “It’ll be a six-month process before it’s all in place.”
Drivers won’t be permitted to make a call-out over the radio while they are driving: steering with one hand is a no-no.
If they do need to make an announcement while the bus is moving, they will have to use good old-fashioned lung power to call out a stop.
Though other transit systems in larger Canadian cities employ automated systems to announce stops, those technologies come with a steep price tag, Burton said.
As the aging fleet of buses is replaced by new Nova buses, drivers will be able to use fixed microphones, she noted.
“We’re looking at the most cost-effective ways to keep lines of communication going.”