In the Republic of Ireland, next stop announcements on buses were first introduced in 2012, and rolled out fleet wide on Dublin Bus services in 2014. Next stop announcements are also to be heard on Bus Éireann and Go-Ahead Ireland services. Such next-stop announcements are invaluable to visually impaired passengers, since before the introduction of these announcements, we had to ask Drivers to let us know when we reached our required stop, and often, the driver would forget – leading us on a magical mystery tour not of our choosing, and causing us to be very late for our appointments or discombobulated on eventual arrival at our destinations.
It should be remembered that if a visually impaired person inadvertently alights at the wrong stop, they are in immediate danger, since we may be totally unaware of our surroundings, and if we think that we are at our usual stop, when we are not, the probability of acidents greatly increases.
For over two years, now, as a result of the arrival of covid, windows have been left open for ventilation on both diesel and hybrid buses, making it very difficult and, at times, impossible for blind or partially sighted passengers to hear next stop announcements. Not surprisingly, this is causing us to miss our stops.
The sound of the diesel engine, artificial engine noise (AVAS) on hybrid buses; as well as the sound of the road surface, traffic, other passengers talking and, indeed, rain, significantly adds to the problem.
This is both an issue for passengers seated at the disability area on the right (as you board the bus), as well as those seated elsewhere on the bus.
A range of measures were introduced in April and May, 2020, following the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic. These included blocking off seats to ensure social distancing, windows being left open for ventilation, and the wearing of face masks.
While covid-19 restrictions were largely lifted on February 28th, 2022, the legacy of windows being left open for ventilation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
The volume for audio announcements is fixed at a predefined level which Dublin Bus Drivers have no control over.
Also, our members have been told by Dublin Bus that if next-stop announcements are inaudible, that the driver will tell them their stop if they let the driver know in advance. This position is clearly untenable, since if such a system was workable in the first place (prior to the introduction of the announcements), then no announcements would be needed.
Some examples of difficult to hear next stop audio announcements include:
Dublin Bus Route H1 (Diesel) short recording of next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Strandville Avenue, Newcomen Bridge and Amiens Street.
Short recording of Dublin Bus Route 70 (Diesel) next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Our Ladys Church, Kinvara Avenue, Ashtown Grove, Kempton, Ashtown Roundabout, Parkway Station and Peck’s Lane.
Short recording of Dublin Bus Route 37 (Hybrid) next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Parklands, Castleknock Road, Oak Lawn and Castleknock.
2. Other Announcements Crowding Out Next Stop Announcements
2.1 Issues with information message announcements
Some information messages are causing next stop announcements to play late.
In addition to next stop announcements, Several other information messages currently play on Dublin Bus. These include:
- a 30 second CCTV GDPR message;
- an 11 second, “please hold the hand-rail” message; and
- a 15 second “please stay behind the white line message”.
The messages are longer than they would be in English-only jurisdictions, since under the Official Languages Act (2004), messages are required to be in both English and Irish.
These play at random and the Driver has no control over them.
Dublin Bus ‘CCTV GDPR message’ (30 seconds).
Dublin Bus ‘Please Hold Handrail’ message (11 seconds).
Dublin Bus ‘Please Stay Behind White Line’ message 0m15s’
3. Added Imminent Threat of Return to Covid Messaging
Initially, the covid response was all about limiting the numbers of passengers on buses: in March, 2020, covid-19 restrictions set a 25% limit on the number of passengers permitted to use public transport. In the case of Dublin Bus, this amounted to a limit of just 17 passengers.
However, in May, 2020, A 37 second covid-19 message was introduced. This was problematic because, in certain scenarios, these covid announcements were causing next stop announcements to play late, particularly at off-peak times, where it took buses much quicker to get from stop to stop, reducing the amount of available time in the interim for other announcements to be made.
Dublin Bus Covid-19 message playing from May 2020 until February 2022.
The audio announcement system is not configured to allow for information messages to be interrupted by next stop announcements. This has a particularly adverse effect during off-peak times of 2 and sometimes 3 next stop announcements playing one after another. In contrast, it is not an issue at peak time, due to traffic and a steady flow of passengers boarding and alighting at most stops.
An additional 45 second ‘Covid-19 mask wearing exemption message’, rolled out on Bus Éireann City Services, was also due to be rolled out on Dublin Bus and Go-Ahead in early 2022. However, this did not occur, following the lifting of restrictions in February, 2022.
Covid-19 mask wearing exemption message.
4. Not Being Listened To, and Imminent Worries
VVI first raised this issue with Dublin Bus over 2 years ago, and while the removal of the 37 second Covid-19 message in February, this year, effectively resolved the issue, the 30 second GDPR message is now playing more frequently, and again leading to situations where blind and partially sighted passengers are missing their stops. Again, this is particularly noticeable when travelling off-peak.
We requested Dublin Bus to either remove or shorten the message to something like ‘CCTV is operating on this bus – Tá CCTV i bhfeidhm ar an mbus seo’.
VVI has also alerted Bus Éireann to the difficulties caused by these information messages, which, again, are particularly noticeable during off-peak times, when there is light traffic and passengers are not boarding or alighting at every stop.
We raised this issue with the National Transport Authority, at a meeting, in July, 2022; and also at the Accessibility Consultative Committee of the Dept. of Transport on September 6th, 2022; but we have received no adequate response. The NTA said it would make sure that “essential” messages were prioritised, without making it clear that next stop announcements would be prioritised over all others.
With the winter approaching, we are concerned about a possible reintroduction of the Covid-19 message and, indeed, the mask wearing exemption message.
A combination of all these messages will cause mayhem for passengers who are visually impaired, particularly when travelling off-peak.
5. Simple Asks
Bearing in mind the requirements under EU Bus Regulations – including Regulation EU no. 181/2011 and s.i. no. 635/2020); as well as the new EU standards on passenger information (EN 17478): the safety of visually impaired passengers cannot be compromised by their missing essential stop information in a timely manner.
Accordingly, we request the following:
- that volumes of announcements always be adequate, bearing in mind ambience noise; and
- that next stop announcements be given full priority, in practice, in announcements on all bus routes, over any other announcements.