Media Coverage For Talking Busses

At the end of March, I met with the
Minister for regional development
But i didn’t think much of it and thought he was just saying the right things. I thought that was the end of it, however guide dogs had launched their report on bus travel for the visually impaired called “the road to nowhere”. I can’t be bothered looking up the link for that.

I was out on Monday when i got a call from the media guy at guide dogs. Apparently
BBC newsline
Wanted to pick up the story and wanted to know if someone would be available to do a short interview the next day. guide dogs had decided that i would be a good candidate as i was only recently taking busses on my own. So me and Ushi headed up to belfast.

It was orriginally going to be that i would be filmed getting off the bus, but the bbc people were late. When they got there we took a few pictures of me on the bus then getting off, then walking into the station. We then sat down in one of the many caffes to do the interview. I was amazed at the amount of kit they had with them! Ushi just lay down the whole time looking bored apparently. After the interview was over though she wanted to sit up when they wanted another shot of her lying down!

They were lovely people and couldn’t have been any nicer. I was shown on Wednesday nights program. They also interviewed another guide dog owner. The amount of people who’ve stopped me in the street to say they watched it is mad!

My uncle wanted a copy of the clip to keep. So the searching began for the video. I had to email the bbc and they posted it again, but i couldn’t find out how to download it! I now know it goes into your actual downloads folder. I don’t know why i didn’t think of that. We also found this
BBC version
*I had posted a youtube link, but was alerted today that that had been taken down because the account was terminated. Rather strange. I’m not sure how long the bbc version will still be around for*.
Which was much better. So my uncle now has a copy he can watch until his hearts content. What a palarva it was to find it though! I was so worried he wouldn’t get to see it.

I’d just like to thank the bbc for wanting to cover it. Let’s hope the minister sees it!

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Saying The Right Things

Yesterday i met with the minister for regional development to discuss talking busses.

In 2011, there was a pilot of audio visual information on one of the metro busses. It seemed to be very successful. However the minister never made contact himself and didn’t want a meeting until yesterday. We were very skepticle and hoped the minister wouldn’t just say what we wanted to hear so we’d leave.

Well it went so so. He was saying about how it is a priority but that there is a new systim coming in next year. It’s called “bus track” and it’s about reviewing how the information about busses is displayed. They were talking about this app for an iphone that would let you know when a bus was there. I pointed out that’s fab but what about people who don’t have iphones? Or what if you lost reception or you forgot your phone?

Apparently it would cost 1 million pounds to put the audio visual equipment on busses, and it would be harder to put it on the ulster busses. I said that could they not put a microphone on the dashboard of the bus and have the driver announce each stop? But the minister said that that had been tried but it would put too much pressure on the drivers. Our campaignes manager suggested that they could apply to a fund called the Better bus area fund which was alocated to bus companies to help get the equipment installed.

The minister has arranged a meeting again in three months, so i’m not too sure what that means. If wifi is available on busses, why not audio visual information? Apparently it’s the law for it to be on trains, but not busses. I said it had to be a priority and the minister was like “oh you aren’t going to let it slip ar eyou?”.

It would be a real shame if we didn’t get it. Whilst i’ve had good experiences, i know others haven’t. We’re a bit behind the times since a lot of england has it! Also in 3 months a new minister might be elected so it might not be considdered.

Anyway we’ll see what the next while brings.


The Official Talking Busses Pilot

From the start of August until the end of October I think, Guide dogs along with

Translink

(Our local transport organisation) are running the official pilot of the

Talking Busses campaigne

I wrote about in June. That day was like a pre demmo of the pilot.

Every Monday and Tuesday until October, there are about four sessions where guide dog owners are invited to test out the systim and give feedback.

So today I agreed to come up for the half 9 session. I rang yesterday to make sure that it was still happening, and while I was on the phone, I had to fill in a questionaire about using the busses and that. I just said that i don’t really use them but they had to ask the same questions for everybody.

So we caught the 10 to 9 train this morning. Ushi is still very nervous getting on and off the trains since

Our little Accident

Last time. It was new trains both going up to belfast and back, but to Ushi a train is a train. She put her tail down as soon as the train came in, and rushed to get on and off it. Getting off was the same. Her tail was down and she trembled a bit and couldn’t wait to get off. Once she was actually on/off she was grand, but just the initial getting on and off that bothered her.

I didn’t make too much of a deal of it though, and made sure she got plenty of praise once she was on and off. I think it’ll take her a while before she is comfortable again. I didn’t think she would remember, but she did.

Once we arrived at Belfast Central station where we were going to meet someone to take me round to the place where we would catch the bus, we had no further mishaps. Dad and my sister dropped me off with the policy officer of our team who is basically in charge of the whole project. They were going to do some shopping while I was doing the talking bus thing.

First of all, we had to find some grass before we got on the bus as i wanted to make sure she had been and all. We had to go to back through the station to find some out by the car park before going to where we would get the bus.

We chatted away as we walked. Apparently this pilot is only running on five of the busses that do the set route. (It is the Metro 5A service which serves the Castleregh road among other stops if any of you know where I am talking about). There are 10 busses on the 5A service but only 5 have the announcements on them. Guide dogs applied for funding or something, to try the pilot in other areas of Northern Ireland, but that money was lost in budget cuts from the government. If the pilot is successful, guide dogs could be given £1,000,000 over the next 5 years in which case the project would have to be phased in, or they could get £5,000,000 at a stretch, which would mean they could introduce it in more areas. Unfortunately the minister for transport might see the need for it though and could just do the belfast area. That would be a shame really if it was only for Belfast.

We headed round to the Queens Square bus stop which is near the city hall I think. Our bus wasn’t due until 10.30, so we went into the bus shelter to try out the

React Systim

Which has been installed on three bus stops along the route which the bus takes. This is a pilot too. The speaker was to the right if you had your back to the bus shelter and this should be a consistent thing at each bus stop.

I was handed a little key ring, which would set the systim off. There are two little indentations which are buttons. You press the two buttons together to turn the keyring on. This means that you can start finding out more information about what is being displayed, which in our case was the bus stop information. It can also be used in the street too. When you press the right button on its own, it came up with a list of stops and the time that each bus would arrive. It worked with what was being displayed visually on the bus time table. The speaker was set at a very short distance which meant that you had to be in the bus shelter to activate the unit, but out in the street and that it can be extended so as you were past you would be alerted to the bus stop information.

The other button on the keyring would give you more information but we didn’t know what since the system had just been installed at the start of the month.

Unfortunately you would have to keep pressing the button to find out when your bus would come, as it didn’t announce anything more until you pressed the button meaning you had no idea what bus would come along or when. I think it would be better if maybe a few minutes before each bus came it would say something like “Metro 5A now approaching Queens Square”. When the busses came we had no idea what one was what, so I think that as the door opened the bus could say “Metro 5A” so you knew what bus had just pulled up.

Before we got on our bus, there was a group of 2 guide dog owners, a cane user, and three sighted people (two from guide dogs, and someone from the RNIB. Before it had just been me and the policy officer.

The bus we were meant to get didn’t actually have the announcements on it, although it should have had. So we waited until 11 o’clock, when the next one was due. We had to make sure it was a single decker bus though because the double deckers had a problem with them announcing the stops. There was one problem with the bus we were getting though. For some reason when the drivers had to change, the ticket machine interfeered with the announcements. The bus driver had to turn off his engine and then turn it back on again, and it would work then.

When we got on the bus I didn’t realise that there would be other passengers too. They will be evaluating the project too as it should suit everyone and would be useful for tourists for example as well as those with sight problems.

We were on the bus for about an hour. We basically did the route in both directions. The only problem I found on the journey was that when the bus went over bumps, it was quite hard to hear the stops. I liked the way that once you got near your stop it was announced giving you plenty of time to ring the bell.

I will be giving my feedback tomorrow on the whole thing. I also have a suggestion for if the money runs out. Could Translink not install a P A system on the bus where the driver could announce each stop? Although getting the driver to do that could be hard.

It was a good day.

I have also discovered something else that Ushi doesn’t like to walk over. Manhole covers! She will give them a really wide birth. She also doesn’t like walking across frosted glass surfaces. One of the shopping centres has this frosted glass bit, and Ushi just stopped at it. When I tried to encourage her on, she just turned the other way! Luckily there was another way round.

I hope as many people as possible take part in the pilot. It is a really useful thing to have! It would make more people use the busses! (Although the trains have more room.). So if you are in and around Belfast over the next couple of months, be sure to check out the busses! I won’t put any details about how to contact guide dogs up here though.

I must head off to bed now-Ushi has been there since about 10 o’clock!