Hopefully you didn't ride any buses last weekend. For forty-eight less than glorious hours, a supplementary audio announcement system was in use on all coaches. After every zone, and every five minutes on top of that, three new announcements were played: one asking passengers to hold on in three languages, another asking folks to stand behind the yellow line, and a third informing that illegal activities were being monitored and recorded and would be reviewed later.
These played in addition to the usual announcement fare, normally a mixture of automated stop announcements and prerecorded PSAs played by the driver when appropriate ("please move to the rear" on a full bus, etc). The result was a blistering cacophony of unending noise, interfering with operators' ability to give good customer service and all but destroying any semblance of a relaxing ride for customers. Incredibly, the operator had no control over the volume, frequency, or sheer existence of the announcements.
Passengers were instead left with continuous reminders of things which at best were obvious (hold on) or rarely pertinent (stand behind the line). The worst offender, however, was having to hear every five minutes– not an exaggeration– about how illegal activities were being monitored and recorded for subsequent review. A second ago you had a bus full of people who weren't thinking about crime, but now they were, while being implicitly told they were in a hostile and unsafe environment. The accusatory tone could legitimately be termed insulting.
However, I don't want to harp on the negatives here. I'm impressed by the two things which happened next: the overwhelming public outcry against the announcements, and Metro's immediate execution in addressing that outcry– the PSAs began on Saturday, and were eliminated by the Monday morning commute.
The first of these two points admirably flies in the face of the lie-down-and-take-it passive-aggressiveness Seattle is sometimes accused of. Thank you for expressing your voice, you thoughtful masses. That's how history gets made.
The second point puts a human face on a bureaucracy. There are people in positions of power at Metro who care, who genuinely care about the welfare of the ridership. I've met some of them. For every scheduler who thinks you can get from 12th & Jackson to 5th and Jackson in two minutes, and every planner who thinks transferring more than once is a good idea, there are ten other employees who spend their days thinking of how to benefit the largest number of people, especially those who sorely need the service, with the limited resources available. These faces receive no thanks and minimal exposure, but they are there.
RapidRide first launched on Pac Highway instead of Bellevue even though both were ready at comparable times because starting the service in a low-income, working-class area meant something. It was a statement. It said, Metro's best service is not for the elite. It's for everyone. It is offered without judgment, that people of any stripe may prosper and contribute to our growing city. Metro just resurrected the 47– "newly resuscitated," as I told the passengers when I drove it yesterday– due to customer requests. They didn't have to. Years ago they brought back the 9, and reworked the 345/346 routing at the suggestion of the community. Right now we're in a boom time, with significant new service all over the network (I cannot express how useful new night runs on the 5, 40, and 41 are). It feels good to see bus changes that aren't reductions.
If anything, the ill-fated PSAs were examples of the overzealous to urge to invent something simply because one can, rather than because one needs to. For the fine folks overseeing the project: we've made it this far without those things, and Metro's place is to set new standards rather than follow them. The obvious solution is to have the PSAs be playable at will by the operator when (s)he deems it appropriate, like our other PSAs. The yellow line and illegal crime notices in particular are usually unnecessary. Noise pollution leads to noise ignoring, and not having manual overrides for any new technology is inexcusable.
People appreciate being acknowledged, whether it's the driver greeting you or an organization responding with alacrity. On the 47 yesterday, I didn't just have passengers telling me they were glad the route was back, although that was appreciated. I had people throughout the afternoon literally yelling from across the street, waving and hollering about how glad they were to see the route back in the neighborhood. I'd never seen anything like it. They were thanking me, though I have nothing to do with it. That thanks goes to Seattle voters and to you mavens, the good folks upstairs.