64 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Voice of the T”

  1. I’ve been told by ST officials that ST is reviewing the beeps for the train ORCA readers, in particular because they have the same sound for tap-on, tap-off, and cancel.

    It probably would cost a lot to transition to a voice announcements from the readers, but it seems like that is something that should be thought of in the next smart card contract. We’re almost halfway through this smart card contract with Vix, and it seems like Vix has been acting a little overconfident about their ability to get a new contract, or hasn’t been thinking through how unimpressed their customers may be when they don’t provide new features their customers ask for at a reasonable cost.

    So let me ask: Has anyone experienced talking smart card readers anywhere? … not just on transit, but anywhere?

    BTW, Does MBTA not use different voices for different purposes? Is there no female voice when they are trying to get riders to follow the rules or for other announcements for which they trying to get everyone to pay attention? And do they only do announcements in English?

    1. How about just a different pitch for tap-on and tap-off. People should have no trouble figuring it out after a few uses.

      Two things I don’t like about voice announcements:
      1) They take longer than a simple beep. We don’t want the 5-10 seconds or so it takes to say “you are now cleared to board the train” to limit the rate at which a crowd of people can tap their cards.

      2) Voice announcements are more annoying than beeps to listen to when you have to hear it over and over again for up to 10-15 minutes as you wait for your bus or train.

      1. Beeps are not as useful information for blind riders as voice messages. Nor do they have to be long.

        “fare paid”
        “cancelled” — which should be eliminated in 2019
        “trip ended”
        “insufficient funds”
        “You already tapped.”
        “pass ending soon” — which is annoying with either beeps or voice, since in most cases, a pass was already loaded remotely

      1. Look for details on the latest advances in joint debit card / transit card technology in the next few days. Good stuff, but, yes, if it is a different vendor, it probably requires replacing lots of cards and lots of hardware. I’ll answer that in detail later.

      2. In that case, any proposal to switch vendors is probably DOA. Lots of people would rightly become very angry at having to pay $5 for a new card when they just paid $5 for the card they have. And that’s still ignoring the problem of what to do with the balances people already have on their cards, including cards which are not registered. I’m also wondering what would happen if someone from out of town buys an Orca card for a visit to Seattle and keeps the card (with a small balance on it) in case he/she decides to come back. If this next visit doesn’t happen until years after the new system is adopted, is this person out of luck (i.e. is the money he already had on his Orca card gone)?

      3. A $5 fee to switch cards is inconceivable; initially they would have to be free. Any conversion would have major public confusion and anger at having to get a different card, after they recently went through the rigamarole of getting ORCA. Adding a forced fee on top of that would be untenable.

      4. Many public transport companies have switched vendors, and ORCA is built on a mostly open standard (using MiFare DESFire EV1 cards), so I doubt switching vendors would be a disaster, or impossible.

    2. Having just gotten back from a small trip to the UK (London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), I can say that ORCA’s not unique in how it handles audio feedback. However, in the one system I used that required touching in and touching out (London’s Oyster), there were also fare gates involved, so it was a little more clear if your tap in/out worked or not.

      That said, I can’t believe making tap on/tap off tones polyphonic (i.e. tapping on tone would be low-hi, tapping off hi-low) is a massive programmatic change. Just one Vix isn’t willing to do without an outrageous price.

    3. Generally, the T has 3 different voice announcement personalities. There’s the stop announcements and the “approaching” / “arriving” announcements which are done by Mr. Oglesby, the countdown clock announcements (i.e. “The next Ashmont train arrives in 5 minutes) which are done by a text to speech (TTS) voice, and finally, there’s yet another TTS voice that does service delay information (i.e. “The Red Line is experiencing minor delays due to a disabled train at Park St”). This final voice is done by a female TTS voice.

  2. Bicyclist falls off bike and successfully sues the city of Tacoma for $242,000. His attorney argued the city is at fault because it didn’t build lateral supports into the bike lanes to prevent damage by heavy vehicles. Shouldn’t bicyclist be banned (for their own safety) from all roads and bike lanes that don’t have these lateral supports built into them? I also propose that bicyclist must get bike insurance, and be tested and licensed (at their own expense), to show they know how to operate a bicycle safely. These fees bicyclist must pay will also help pay for safer bike lanes.


      1. Sam,

        After reading over your statement-a little perspective on bicycles:

        The intense ideological hate that attaches to the revival this perfectly beneficial and sensible means of transportation mirrors exactly the spirit with which motor-driven automobiles were greeted at the end of the horse era.

        There’s a book, made into a wonderful PBS documentary called “Horatio’s Drive” detailing the fury directed against the chain-driven converted carriages like the 1903 Winton that Horatio Nelson Jackson and his mechanic drove coast to coast on a bet.

        There were laws on the books in some towns that if a horse-drawn vehicle approached, the motorist had to dismantle the car and bury it so as not to scare the horse.

        It’s fitting that the level of debate so much resembles current national health-care discussion. One reason that bicycle travel draws so little ire in Europe is that long-established national health care moves injury cases from the courts to the hospitals where they belong.

        Also, along with pedestrians and motorists, bicycle riders learn well and early the techniques for negotiating streetcars and tracks. In another ten or fifteen years, same will happen here.

        Mark Dublin

    1. Sure, we can start licensing pedestrians while we’re at it. That’s not unreasonable at all.

    2. Since STB won’t delete my above comment so that I can rewrite it, I will just rewrite it anyway.

      A bicyclist successfully sued the city of Tacoma for $242,000. His attorney argued the city is at fault because it didn’t build lateral supports into the bike lanes to prevent damage by heavy vehicles. In light of this ruling, should bicyclist be barred, for their own safety, from bike lanes that don’t have these lateral supports built into them?

      Also, why shouldn’t bicyclists have to get bike insurance, and be tested and licensed, like automobile drivers? The fees could help pay for safer bike lanes.

    1. If the 156 were converted to DART, it could theoretically be re-coupled with the 906 (formerly the 155). However, its frequency remains generally twice that of the 906.

      The 156 is already rarely on time (at least when I’ve been watching), so this recoupling wouldn’t change that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get included in the RTA signs at Airport Station, so only those carrying a pricey phone have an idea when it is actually coming. It would be nice to say something on the RTA northbound RTA sign like “156 Des Moines Bay 3 / 9 minutes”.

      Altering the coupling to just have Airport Station be the terminus of the 156 and the 906 might be another option, which would help immensely with on-time reliability. The routes could then be altered to serve Bays 1 and 2 at Airport Station, and thereby get included in the RTA signage.

      Current ridership on the 156 is abysmal, so something is going to have to change.

      1. Ridership is still abysmal? I guess I wouldn’t know, since I don’t ride it very much (the irony). The routing is still new, so metro is still on the “it’s new so let’s give it some time” excuse for the half-hourly service, but I think that this route will become hourly before long.

      2. While I haven’t used the 156 before, I’d suspect that at least one reason for it’s low ridership is the lack of a schedule for Link (considering that it’s effectively a feeder bus connecting Des Moines and some other areas to Link). Since there is no schedule for Link, it’s hard to use the Link+156 connection, since one must risk missing the outbound connection (and having to wait 30-60 minutes) or leave over 10 minutes earlier just for padding, which is ridiculous. It also doesn’t help that Link is not competitive with the car in terms of travel time.

      3. A schedule would work particularly well for link because it’s separated from grade-level traffic. The time on the schedule would actually be the time the train shows up.

      4. A schedule for Link would be somewhat helpful, but doesn’t help the 156 actually run on time.

        There are probably more through riders than riders connecting to/from Link. That was my experience when I rode it during PM peak a few weeks ago. Though with fewer than a dozen different riders during the course of my trip, the sampling is inconclusive. Given that I waited over a half hour for that particular 156, I suspect it might have been higher-than-usual ridership.

  3. Glad for Open Thread, but not for transit-related experience this morning that prompted this comment.

    At espresso stand at the Ballard gate of the Chittenden Locks around 7:30, met young man who had arrived on the 44 to walk across the Locks. He didn’t know present situation any better than I did when I got home from a month in Sweden three days ago.

    Can anyone tell me if there’s been Word of Protest 1 from anybody during almost two weeks of the loss of our park in general, and specifically the pedestrian corridor between Magnolia and Ballard- including the inbound 44 stop at the Ballard gate?

    More to point, does anybody besides me think that some concerted effort by Us The People of Seattle is in order get those gates and that walkway open Toot Sweet? Columbus Day tomorrow. But might be good if Jim McDermott’s downtown office a block from Westlake had some visitors.

    If Congress won’t release the money we’ve already paid in taxes to run the place, shouldn’t be that hard for a few dozen-or a few hundred- of us ordinary citizens to keep the grounds and empty the garbage ’til our country once again has a government.

    Re: security, US Marshal service and King County Sheriff can deputize as many as needed. I’m not talking “Occupy demonstration” here. More like civil defense. If a ‘quake cut the line from DC with no restoration date, willing citizens would get trash bags, shovels, and badges with no argument from any requisite authority.

    Columbus Day tomorrow. But might be good if Jim McDermott’s office a block from Westlake had a lot of visitors starting Tuesday morning- like the Shutdown itself, just for starters. There’s a lot more of our Government shut down than the Ballard Locks.

    Mark Dublin

    1. What does the shutdown mean for projects across the country that got TIGER grants? Since U-Link is one of them, is there a chance that the shutdown could cause the project to be delayed?

      1. I assume it’s like research grants: if you’re not a federal agency you can use the money that you already have, but they won’t send out any more grant money until the shutdown is over.

  4. Extra paragraph re: jet lag. Single-day return from Stigsbergsliden STF hostel Gothenburg via streetcar, Danish rail, Icelandair, and LINK left brain warped along with time. Could really use a walk across the Locks. And a functioning county. Sweden won’t grant asylumn for claim of political persecution by derangement.


    1. Congress of “Country” presently makes King County look ‘Way functional. Going back to bed before any more blogging. Pics and notes on trip soon, promise.


      1. Mark,
        Looking forward to it. Just got back from the UK, myself. It was a helpful dose of perspective.

  5. Since Oran and the other STB bloggers seem to be asleep at the switch, and won’t delete a comment I wanted to rewrite, does anyone here know how or if I can edit a past comment?

    1. Alternatively, you can purchase a moderation system for the blog.

      They aren’t usually this late, though. I remember them fixing corrections and errors of mine within a few hours.

    2. Volunteering would mean researching and interviewing people to write articles, and that would cramp Sam’s style.

    3. While many people on here (apparently including you) might disagree with your above comment, it does not violate the terms for this blog and it does contain some valid points. You don’t attack anyone. I personally don’t see the point of removing the comment. But I also agree an edit / remove function would be good too

    4. I would like to have the ability to preview a comment before it goes live. It provides a good opportunity to proofread yourself and correct obvious typos. Human Transit has supported the preview feature for awhile now and I find it quite helpful.

    5. This has been a general gripe as long as I can remember. But edit/delete features don’t play nice with a loginless setup like STB uses. futaba-style passwords might be a way around that, but isn’t there something fun about preserving every error?

      1. The way human transit works, when you post a comment, you first see a preview of what it will actually look like on the web page (with all your html formatting and hyperlinks enabled) and you then have to click a second button to actually post it or, if you see problems, you can click “edit” and fix them. Human Transit does all this with a loginless system.

    6. STB tried using Disqus for comments and it was even worse than this: you’d enter a comment and then sometimes it appeared and sometimes it didn’t and you’d have to type it all over again, or sometimes it would appear for a while and then vanish.

  6. Since I believe that reliability data is empirically collected for every trip, and transit riders need to know how reliable their bus is, why not indicate 50%-confidence, 90%-confidence, and 99%-confidence (for example) arrival times for each time point on the schedule? That is, at what time will you have over a (50, 90, 99, etc.) percent chance of arriving at or before that time? For example, you could click on a certain time on an online schedule and there would be a popup box saying something like:

    “Scheduled arrival: 10:00
    50% of buses* arrive at or before 10:07
    90% of buses arrive at or before 10:10
    99% of buses arrive at or before 10:14”
    *within the last month, for this specific trip

    After seeing this information, you know that it would be foolish to use that trip to make a connection to another bus at 10:05, as there would be a less than 50% chance of making that connection. What do you guys think of this idea?

    1. Ideally this reliability data could also be integrated with the trip planner so that the trip planner knows which connections are realistic and which ones aren’t (if a bus is often 10 minutes late, then the trip planner obviously should not suggest any 5-minute connections from it, but if the bus almost always comes within 2 minutes of schedule, then that 5-minute connection is fine)

    2. I tend to think of this reliability data proposal more as a potential OneBusAway feature than a Metro feature. Every transit agency that provides real-time arrival information is already providing the raw data to implement such a feature (OBA can easily aggregate in a server how often each bus is on time, < 5 minutes late, < 10 minutes late, etc., broken down by time of day and day of week). So the software to manage the collection and display of such data should be shared as part of OneBusAway, rather than having each supported transit agency duplicate each others efforts to write such software.

      If there were a publicly available api to get real-time arrival info in an automated fashion, I might even be interested in prototyping this feature in my spare time.

      1. I’d love this — would be incredibly helpful when OBA is down.

        In addition, I always find myself wanting probabilities for travel modes, including car2go. e.g. What is the chance that there is a car2go within a 5 minute walk of some location on a weekday night? A weekday night in the winter?

        It would also be interesting to see (from the data) what factors affect on-time arrival, and see if this is the same as the answers drivers provide from experience. Big events, lousy weather, new traffic patterns, good weather, etc.

      2. Sure, it might make more sense for One Bus Away to implement this idea, but this information should really be accessible from Metro’s and Sound Transit’s websites to help people plan their trips. It doesn’t need to clutter timetables up–just simply have the user click on a particular time to see the reliability statistics for that time.

      3. 7z – absolutely. For lots of transit users, Car2Go has become the go-to backup option to fall back on if a bus is heavily delayed. When OBA is down, I currently resort to intuition to guage the reliability of the bus, and plan accordingly. For instance, if I notice any major event downtown letting out, I have (unfortunately) learned that Metro’s failure to handle the huge influx of passengers makes Car2Go a vastly superior option to the bus, even if we’re talking about a supposedly frequent bus route, even if I have to walk halfway up Capitol Hill go get to the nearest car. Eventually, Link should be able to handle these situations, but, for now, that’s what we’ve got.

        Josh – The trick is how to provide the information in layman’s terms that people who don’t understand what a probability is can comprehend. Practically speaking, where this tends to matter the most is in connections. A 5-minute connect time between two hourly routes can be either reliable or unreliable, depending on the routes. Perhaps the Metro trip planner could, under the covers, use on-time performance statistics to gauge whether or not a potential transfer is reliable, and suggest that you leave early and allow more time if it is not. (On the other hand, perhaps Metro should get out of the trip planner business altogether and leave features like this to Google).

    1. Say if you have a card that is connected to a bank account. Could a thief use it in some way to extract money from your account? What sort of protections are in place for a lost or stolen ORCA card like with a VISA card?

      1. I would assume that when you notice you’ve lost it, you can cancel the card online or at least unlink it from your bank account.

      2. If the card is registered, I believe you can lock it and transfer the money to a new card. Which might require some humans to help.

        If it’s an unregistered card, you’re hosed.

      3. I think you have to register the card before you can set up autoload. In any case, you can transfer any remaining money on a registered card to another card, but it usually requires getting a new card and paying a $5 fee.

  7. From a transportation quality perspective, the automated voice announcements certainly make the various lines easier for passengers to use. From a cultural perspective though, it does give the system a certain character to hear a thick Boston accent slur, “ChahhlsMGHdawesopenondaright,” however unintelligible it may be.

  8. Does anyone know the reasoning why there is an ORCA reader at 15th and Market going north, but not one going south (which would help the morning commute)?

    1. Yes. The current stop is temporary, because of the construction of the Urbana Apartments on the north block. Once that construction is finished, the stop will be relocated there, and it will have ORCA readers and real-time arrival signs.

      1. Proof of the awesomeness of this blog is (a) the answer was given promptly and correctly; and (b) I could have given it myself because I read the blog faithfully.

    1. “The root cause is that many people have chosen to live in San Francisco, and we are now all competing with one another to bid up the rents.”

      That’s the main factor, but the secondary factor is that the people moving in have more money than the people who already live there. Prices follow the vacancy rate, but they also respond to a pool of rich people buying up the entire supply.

      Also, Daly City, South San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin and Oakland all have a responsibility for this too. They should have densified to absorb the overflow coming out of San Francisco for thirty years, so that people wouldn’t have to choose between walkability/transit and affordable housing. But they said no to density, and that’s a large part of why San Francisco is so expensive. Then there’s Silicon Valley. Why are so many people taking shuttles down the penninsula? Because San Jose is so fucking boring that people go out of their mind living there. Put more of the city in San Jose, and that would take some of the pressure off San Francisco.

      The “discovery” of Oakland after decades of derision is fascinating. Oakland is the New Jersey of the Bay Area, it seems. But that makes it really fortunate that BART was built forty years ago. It has alway been odd that the BART lines are effectively centered on Oakland when San Francisco is the largest city. That was just an accident of history, that the East Bay voted yes on BART and the Penninsula, South Bay, and North Bay voted no. But if Oakland is becoming the new San Francisco, the place of choice for the carless middle class, then it will retroactively make more sense. One hopes that Oakland will now densify, along with Emeryville and Richmond and San Leandro.

    2. Another interesting question is, where will the Oakland of Pugetopolis be? “My friends say they are moving to Oakland because San Francisco has let them down. The douchebags are winning…. They compare [Oakland] to Brooklyn because of the bridge and the tunnel and the exodus of artists and working-class people… My friends say they’re moving to Oakland because all their friends seem to be moving there.” (Were Are All My Friends?)

      Bellevue is the most well-positioned, being the largest suburb and the one most willing to embrace growth, and it has attracted the most art venues (but not necessarily artists). But they say yes, there are artists at 130th! and they want to make 130th station into an artists’ area. But on the other hand, Bellevue-Kirkland is where the, er, douchebags are moving to and raising up rents. So maybe we have to look elsewhere…

      Burien? Kent? The Bailo Memorial East Hill? Renton, which is ahead of the curve? But Renton has to do something about its automobile cesspool of a downtown and Highlands first. And it should be someplace on Link, so… Lynnwood? There’s the growth it’s been saying it wants. Or Des Moines? Des Moines may have the most physical potential, although it doesn’t seem the city is ready for it yet.

      1. If I had to guess, I’d probably say to look north and south. To the north, the grid is still relatively intact in Shoreline, not to mention most of Seattle north of 85th St. In addition to Link, there’s RRE and Swift. And there’s NE Seattle/Lake City, which has the potential to be very well connected to the rest of the city. To the south, there’s tons of capacity in Rainier Valley, West Seattle, Delridge, and Burien.

        The problem with the Eastside, including Bellevue, is that there just isn’t a grid. It’s all suburban street hierarchy subdivisions. Making those areas walkable would require major street reconfigurations. That’s significantly harder than the kind of infill development that’s possible in the other areas that I listed.

      2. adam: I have nothing against Tacoma, and there’s no denying that it’s got a great street grid and quite a lot of walkable history. But it’s also quite a distance from Seattle. It’ll be a long time before Tacoma is really part of the Seattle metropolitan area, especially when there’s so much infill potential in places as close to downtown as Shoreline is.

  9. Since we’re unmasking the voices we hear lately with this week finding that Susan Bennett is the voice of Siri and knowing that many of the telephone recordings over many years has been done by Jane Barbe I’m curious who the voices are that are in back of what we hear on Metro or associated with ORCA. Who makes the announcment “The next stop is Broadway, Seattle Central Community College” or who the male voice is that says “Please exit through the rear” or “Please move to the back of the bus.” I’d also like to know who is the man that was used for ORCA’s “dial-up” service when you call 206-456-0609 who greets you with “Where is your bus? Let’s find out.”

  10. A visit to a hydrogen refueling station at Ecoful Town in Toyota City, Japan

    It was announced two years ago in Japan that there would be 100 hydrogen fueling stations built, “centered around four major city areas in Tokyo, Aichi, Osaka and Fukuoka” and completed by 2015, when the first FCVs are planned for mass-market sale. Last year the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) together began work on three stations to test planning and viability of commercial hydrogen fueling.


  11. Human Transit asks whether the federal government is becoming more of a hinderance than a help in urbanist development. Time for an urbanist “tea party”?

    Our recent discussion about expanding transit directly at the city level rather than going through the state/county/ST taxing authority is a similar issue, although it’s at the state level rather than the federal level.

    The concept of sending federal money directly to metropolitan areas, or not sending that money to the federal government at all but just spending it here, is too complex for me to have any immediate opinions, but it’s still worth considering.

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