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Transit Drivers Calling The Stops

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press, January 2, 2008.

New Practice Could Be Boon--or Distraction

"Hudson Bay!"

"University!"

"Sherbrook!"

That's the new sound of Winnipeg Transit buses, where Tuesday marked the first day when drivers had to call out upcoming bus stops or, their unions fear, risk disciplinary action.

On bus number 11 on Tuesday, with Winnipeggers still bleary-eyed from the previous night's festivities, the driver dutifully called out the name of every stop on his route.

"That's what they want us to do, and let's just leave it at that," the driver said tactfully.

Depending on whom you talk to, it's a welcome change towards a more accessible equitable public transportation system, or an annoyance and nuisance.

Janet Hunt, a blind Winnipegger who regularly uses transit, said the move is a huge relief.

"I've always been worried that drivers have so much else on their minds that they'll forget to call out my stop. It really gives me a lot more control if they announce them. If I want to stop and get some milk before I go home, now I can do that," she said.

Hunt adds that a system where stops are announced automatically would be ideal (such technology is planned for city buses), but waiting for the new technology will cause her and others like her further anxiety.

Barry Goddard, 60, who was taking a bus to his job at the airport, said calling out the stops will help people who have disabilities, such as his daughter.

Ontario Transit operators started announcing bus stops last October, heeding a ruling that was a hard-fought victory for the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Dianna Scarth, executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, said Winnipeg Transit is to be commended for making a similar decision without the legal fuss.

"This change could've been made after a complaint was brought forward, but they made the decision proactively and this joint decision between the union and transit is a really good step," she said.

But not all of the Winnipeg drivers who have to call out the stops are doing it willingly. They say they can have hundreds of stops to call out on every route, which can distract them from driving, and they expect some passengers who are trying to snooze or listen to music will resent the drivers' continual interruptions.

On a Facebook discussion board, one driver insisted that the buses cannot be operated safely under these circumstances. "People really just cannot understand what we as bus operators face daily... I for one will not be calling out all stops come January 1... The passengers' safety rests in my hands, and I for one will not jeopardize anyone's safety," he wrote.

One passenger sympathized with the driver's comments on the discussion board: "But more importantly, shouldn't drivers be concentrating on the road and all the idiot drivers out there, than be concerned about the name of the bus stop they are approaching that no one even wants?"

Regular transit passenger Sara Atnikov, a Red River College student, said if it's an effort to make transit more user-friendly, then it's a step in the right direction, but she doubts the majority of riders will pay any attention.

"I listen to my I-Pod on the bus, so it wouldn't make a difference to me. The only downside is that it is noisy on the bus at times, and people might not hear," she said.

But the sound of bus stops remains sweet news to Marcia Cummings, the National Secretary for {the Alliance for} Equ{al}ity of Blind Canadians.

"A lot of people that I know in Winnipeg have been waiting a very long time for this to happen," she said.

Copyright Winnipeg Free Press.

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