Sunday, December 24, 2006

The loss of someone special....

"That voice on the subway!" "Who is it?" "What will they say next?" "How will they make this trip more interesting?" A first timer might ask.

"I love that voice everyday. I even wait for that train to show up because I love that voice!" A regular might recall.

But all that is disappearing on subway trains accross North America as transit agencies relieve conductors and drivers of subway trains from the responsibilities of announcing stops.

In New York City the new subway cars announce the stops in both a female and male voice. Usually, the female voice announces the stop and the male voice announces the connecting trains and services at the stop (an mp3 example can be found here). This new automated system works remarkably well for New York City because the automated voices are clear and match up with what is being shown on the automated scroll signs. That way both the blind and hard of hearing people can know where they are going on the subway.

However, the automation removes the uniqueness of the some of the conductors that people enjoy. For example, in New York City when at Atlantic Avenue on the 2 train, (click the above link to here the automated announcement) a conductor will give the transfers available and then announce "connection is available to the


Island Railroad." This announcement usually makes the riders smile and giggle. However, with the automated system this is lost.

New York City has gone one step further with the automated announcements. Unlike VIVA in York Region that uses a computer voice to announce the stops, New York City had paid two real life radio announcers to do the announcements for each stop and connections. The New York City announcements have been much more successful than the VIVA version. Why? Because by hiring people the annunciation is properly done in New York City. Whereas, VIVA had been struggling with the announcement at Richmond Hill Centre (one of its major stations) with the a simple announcement like this "Next stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink Routes." However, this announcement turned into" Next Stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink crews." Another example is "Golf Links Drive" which the VIVA voice turned it into "Goolf Links Drive."

With automation comes problems like those experienced by VIVA require a lot of time and frustaration to solve issues like those mentioned above. However, with New York City they seemed to have automated voices correct through the use of radio personality voices. However, with the automation of announcements some of the "personalization" of announcements have been lost. As conductor's announcements of upcoming stops is gradually phased out, this personalization will become a part of transit history.

No longer will you hear from fellow passengers "this conductor has the best voice!" or "That conductor sounds like he is announcing the stops via an old rusted tin can and string system." Its a shame really. But first timers on New York City subway will at least be grateful because they will know where they are going due to the clear automated voices telling what stop it is and which of the over twenty train routes they are able to transfer to.

Footnote: Click here to try these out for yourself using the AT&T demo of the voices. Funny examples include the word "Aurora" (which is one of the towns VIVA goes through). To here the "VIVA voice set the language to "U.S. English" then the voice to "Crystal". Don't forget to type in your message!

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