This past Saturday, King County Metro rolled out three new public safety announcements to play on buses. A day later on Sunday, Metro decided to pull the plug and remove the announcements, effective Monday morning.
I got to be on the receiving end of the aural assault Saturday and Sunday, as an announcement played after every door closure and every five minutes thereafter, reminding riders to hold on while the bus in motion, to stand behind the yellow line, and most annoyingly, that their every activity is being surveilled and recorded and that illegal activities will be prosecuted.
While the first two were merely annoying and unnecessary, the surveillance message needed to be put back through sensitivity training. Hearing it every five minutes left me wondering if my driver was paranoid. Nor did the message educate riders on what the rules are. We later learned that drivers had no control over the timing or volume of these announcements, and that many of them were just as upset about them as riders were.
We are used to hearing announcements multiple times to please turn down the volume on cell phone conversations and music players, and they are played when someone is actually ignoring the rules. Usually, the announcements are effective, and don’t get the rider mad at the driver. This latest message about cameras recording all our illegal activities not only crossed the line of sensitivity, but quite likely had drivers worried that irate riders would take measures. And irate riders did take measures, flooding Customer Service with complaints about the announcements. Reading Metro’s @mentions on Twitter gives you a sense of the intensity of rider displeasure.
To their credit, Metro issued an apology and statement, late Sunday night. Of note, Metro promised to take better care before rolling out the announcements again:
We’ll be reassessing and taking into consideration concerns about the volume, frequency and tone of the announcements before moving forward with any revised announcements, and be sure to share them with customers ahead of time.
I hope that when considering future messages, they think not only of their content, but also their timing and automation. Drivers should have broad discretion about playing messages in contexts that make sense. Forcing riders to endure the same message every time the door closes – tens of thousands of times per year for a daily rider – is indeed an unnecessary aural assault. Kudos to Metro for being so responsive to pulling the plug, and let’s hope that many valuable lessons were learned this weekend.