TriMet testing 'talking buses'

Posted on March 3, 2014

Portland, Ore.-based TriMet began testing the effectiveness of pedestrian warning systems to increase safety around buses.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded TriMet a $400,000 grant to conduct a comprehensive analysis of devices that alert people when a bus is turning. The so-called talking buses and other pedestrian warning systems are not being widely used in the transit industry, but with “distracted walking” on the rise as the popularity of smartphones and other electronic devices soars, more agencies are considering adding them to their fleet.

“Very little is known about the effectiveness of these pedestrian warning systems and this lack of knowledge prompted the FTA to sponsor TriMet’s demonstration project,” said TriMet Executive Director, Safety and Security, Harry Saporta. “Our experience will prove important for the future of this technology as those of us in the transit industry try to increase the level of safety around buses.”

For the pilot, TriMet is partnering with AEM Corp. and Portland State University in evaluating the performance of the warning systems. The pedestrian warning systems have been installed on 45 buses that will run on five bus lines. The lines were selected based on such factors as frequency of turns and high pedestrian traffic areas on the routes as well as ridership volumes. About half of the buses serving the following routes will be equipped with a device.

Currently, three onboard systems and one fixed-location device will be studied, and involve both audible and visual alerts.

Audible/Visual device - Protran Technology Safe Turn Alert: Combines both an audible and visible warning. When the steering wheel is turned a minimum of 45 degrees, an audible alert outside the bus declares “pedestrians, bus is turning” and LED strobe lights on the side of the bus flash. The volume automatically adjusts based on the ambient noise level. For this demonstration, this voice alert and the others involved will only be in English.

Audible only device - Clever Devices Turn Warning System: Uses a sensor inside the steering column. When the operator turns the steering wheel at least 45 degrees, an audible alert, “caution, bus is turning” sounds outside the bus in the direction of the turn. Sound levels can be automatically adjusted for day or night, or quiet zones.

Visual only device - DINEX STAR LED headlight with Pedestrian Crossing Alert: Uses an intelligent system that calculates the bus’s speed and steering wheel angle. It automatically turns on additional super bright LED lights inside the headlight pointed in the direction of travel. Operators can better see objects on the road directly ahead and pedestrians get a visual cue the bus is turning.

Fixed-location device - Static bus warning sign: The word “BUS” lights up when a bus is approaching. It is located at the intersection of SW 5th Avenue at Burnside Street and is positioned above the pedestrian walk/don’t walk signal.

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