Dept. of Transportation
Metro Transit Division

King Street Center
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Seattle, WA 98104
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Appendix C: Transit Operator Debriefing Summary


As part of the Regional Smart Bus Demonstration Project evaluation conducted by King County Metro Transit, a debriefing session was held on January 23, 2002 with transit operators who had operated Smart Bus (aka Intellibus) demonstration coaches. The purpose of the session was to assess operator satisfaction with the Smart Bus demonstration functions and obtain operators' recommendations for a potential system wide implementation of the Smart Bus onboard equipment. The session was facilitated by Research & Management Information staff. Fourteen Central Base transit operators participated in the session: nine full-time transit operators and five part-time transit operators.

The Smart Bus demonstration functions discussed in the session included:

  • The automated stop annunciation function that announced major stop and landmark information to riders;
  • Exterior route destination announcements that announced the coach's service route and destination;
  • Automatic route destination signs, designed to automatically change the coach's exterior signage without operator intervention;
  • Schedule adherence information, displayed as minutes ahead or behind schedule on the transit control head;
  • An on route or off route status indicator, displayed on the transit control head;
  • Recorded public service announcements that could be played to passengers at the operator's discretion.

Discussion Highlights

Interior stop announcements:

Most discussion participants liked the interior stop announcement function and stated it should be included in a smart bus system wide procurement. Some participants noted the function benefited operators by allowing them to focus on driving and gave them "one less thing to worry about."

Participants noted that most of their passengers liked the stop announcements. Several operators received positive feedback from people with disabilities.

Participants stated the function generally worked well, noting a few instances where the wrong announcement was made by the system, or no announcement was made.

Route 570 operators noted problems with the stop announcements at the airport.

The timing for next stop announcements needs further refinement, participants noted. Depending on the route and the coach's speed, the announcement may be made as the coach is passing the stop, or after the coach has passed the stop. Suggestions from participants included customizing the timing of announcements for each route, or that announcements should be made immediately after the doors close.

Other suggested improvements included adding a "next stop will be an express stop" announcement for express trips, shortening the announcements, and eliminating the "beep" the system makes prior to an announcement. Participants noted times when they mistook the beep for the stop requested bell and inadvertently pulled into a stop when no stop was requested.

Some operators felt that the automated announcements would be improved if more concisely worded, for example "California and Alaska" instead of "California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street."

Participants also requested a more user-friendly system requiring fewer keystrokes to make it easier for operators to intervene if the system malfunctions, or if the operator wishes to make announcements themselves.

Voice used for automated announcements

Participants had varied opinions on the female voice used to announce stops in the demonstration. Some participants thought the voice was fine, others thought it was difficult to hear or not "assertive" enough. One suggestion was to have a variety of different types of voices making announcements.

A few participants suggested that announcements should be made by someone from the Northwest to provide a more regional pronunciation of locations.

External route and destination announcements:

The external route and destination announcement function received mixed reactions from discussion participants. A few participants stated that they liked this feature, as it saved them the task of "having to holler out the front door" to visually impaired riders. The function was well liked by their visually impaired customers, these participants said. Most participants found the announcements repetitive, and recommended that the announcement should play only once at a bus stop, to avoid replaying the announcement if the doors open again for late riders.

Automated destination signs

Participants expressed enthusiasm for the Intellibus automatic destination sign change capability, and wanted to see this feature as part of the future system procurement. One participant noted he had trouble getting the signs to change at his terminal and needed to repeat the log in process. Other participants noted the current override requires too many keystrokes. The function would be improved, participants said, if the system was easier to override when an operator needs to manually change the coach's signage.

Schedule adherence status

In general, participants did not find this function helpful. None of the discussion participants relied on the schedule adherence function provided on the transit control head, which displays minutes ahead or behind schedule as of the trip's most recent timepoint. Most participants said they had "checked out" the function, but found it to be either not consistently reliable or not useful to them. Participants indicated the information would not be useful to them if it was more reliable, or if provided in an alternative format, such as predicted arrival time at their next timepoint. Most participants stated that gauging the operation of their schedule is an essential aspect of their duties. Typical comments from participants included "It's our job to know how to drive the route on time," "There are too many variables in operating a schedule: construction, traffic. We are familiar with the route and know a wheelchair rider will be at the next stop."

A few participants expressed concern about the potential use of schedule adherence information for disciplinary purposes.

On route/off route status

In general participants did not find the on and off route status indicator available on the transit control head useful, and recommended excluding it from a future system implementation. Participants expressed the view that they considered being on route as one of their key responsibilities in operating the vehicle, not requiring automated assistance. "We have The Book for that," "Our passengers will know if we are off route if we don't know," were typical comments.

A few operators noted the function would be useful "if it provided a map to tell us how to get back on route."

Public Service Announcements

Participants described the public service announcements that could be played by the transit operator as a useful function, but difficult to access on the demonstration transit control head. Participants said they would use the function if it was easy to get to, requiring no more than two keystrokes. Suggested announcements included announcements of the fare structure, "Please the exit through the front door only," "Please have your fare ready," "Please move to the back," and "Please refrain from using profanity."

Suggestions for next Driver Display Unit (DDU)

Based on their experiences with the Intellibus demo, participants suggested the following features for a future DDU:

  • An accurate clock;
  • A list of ADA stops for use in case the stop annunciation function isn't working;
  • An automated display of run card information, showing next timepoint and scheduled time, one line at a time.

Operator Training

Discussion participants said they received either a brief explanation from the training office staff and a printed handout, or the handout alone, to prepare them to operate the demonstration equipment. Generally participants indicated they felt adequately prepared for the basic log in procedure, but felt less prepared for system troubleshooting or other special circumstances that arose.

Most participants stated they would like to see an operator training class offered if Smart Bus technology is implemented on the fleet. Other training related suggestions from participants included: instructions in The Book, a user-friendly instruction manual, posted instructions near the DDU, and a working training model of the equipment at the Training Center.

Updated: Sept. 2002