The Bus Uncertainty Principle

Too many times have I given up on waiting for a bus at tech square only to have one arrive shortly after I’ve left the stop. Sure, there is an app that shows where buses are, but sometimes it fails to update or a bus won’t show up on the route. The area could definitely benefit from a vocal interface to announce the ETA of a nearby bus or warn you if it’s going to be a while.

There are three bus stops near the 5th and Spring intersection which makes it an ideal place for bus travel. However, if I’ve learned anything about getting around at Georgia Tech, it’s that buses are unreliable. Especially when they are trying to navigate through the traffic of Tech Square and the Marta stop. Currently people will gather in a medium sized crowd and just wait for up to five minutes for a bus to arrive at the stop. Then sometimes the bus will already be full of passengers, which means waiting for the next bus. This is very inefficient, and causes the sidewalk to get crowded near the stops.

A simple announcement of when the next bus will arrive would save everyone the hassle of waiting by the bus stop for an indefinite amount of time until an available bus pulls up. Instead they could go sit down in a nearby seating area to keep the sidewalks clear or engage in activity they know they will have time for. This would need to be a speech directed interface to be able to provide accurate information about bus ETAs, though a jingle could be used to announce a buses arrival. The voice needs to be clear and understandable with a fairly neutral tone. Many trains use announcers with these vocal characteristics to warn about the doors closing or to provide information on upcoming stops. A Siri-like voice would work well for the task. I believe this interface,while not absolutely crucial, would be helpful with minimizing the amount of time people waste standing and waiting for buses to arrive.

This is an example of what this interface could sound like (though the voice could use some work)

Don’t Miss Your Bus

While observing the intersection at 5th St. and West Peachtree St., I realized that the GT bus stop is a poor interface. We saw a guy miss his bus because the bus did not stop at the bus stop, either because the driver did not see him at the stop or because he was not paying attention to the bus pulling up. Catching the bus is an important task for GT students at this intersection, but it is not used with efficiency without a sound interface.

The bus stop is dependent on two different users: the driver and the waiting passengers. A sound interface for the driver at the bus stop would not be useful. A sound to catch the driver’s attention to inform them that someone is waiting for the bus would have to be very loud, which would be quite obnoxious for the people and restaurants nearby. A sound interface for the passengers would be more practical, as it would be quieter and would make catching the bus much easier.

The interface would have to accommodate two types of people at the bus stop, people on their phones and people sitting on benches. There is a set of benches right next to the stop that are popular for sitting and waiting. However, people sitting there may not see the next bus coming, and the benches are at a distance from the actual stop so the bus may not stop for them. Other passengers are usually on their phone or standing off to the side, not actively watching for a bus. Thus, a sound could easily remind both types when a bus is arriving or how long it will been until the next bus to ensure the passengers are ready for when the bus arrives.

This sound interface should be a voice combined with a tone. A tone alone would blend with the busy street soundscape and would be ignored easily. A tone with a voice would easily catch the attention of people waiting nearby. The tone shouldn’t be shrill, but it must be a higher pitch, like a bell, in order to draw people’s attention to it. The voice should sound authoritative, to give a sense of urgency that the bus will soon be there, but not commanding, as if confronting the passengers. A confident, low voice will accomplish this well. The system to perform this could be attached or built into the sign post at the stop with the route map. Imagine sitting at the bench waiting for the bus and hearing “*Ding* The bus is arriving. Please be ready to board.” This would be a more pleasant experience compared to getting anger from missing the bus you’ve been waiting for.

What is the Intersection Missing the Most?

One activity at Tech Square that was visible but not prevalent was the riding and catching of buses. In one of the busiest intersections in the square, 5th and Spring, there is no bus stop. The square could be improved greatly if a bus stop was added.

A Bus stop.                                      Image Source:

Not just any bus stop, but one that had a voice to tell the passengers regularly how far away the bus was. A bus stop should cut down on pedestrian foot traffic making the intersection less busy, and tell users when busses were coming, which would help make the bus accessible to more people. For example a user of said bus stop could possibly be blind or visibly impaired, so having a voice telling when the bus was coming would be very helpful. A user with sight might not need the voice as much but it would help in the fact that the user could be distracted but still know when the bus is coming thanks to the voice. The voice of this bus stop should be a happy, soothing voice that gives one the feeling that everything will be alright and they will get to where there going on time. For example one of the main voices that is used in many subway systems and airports is the same lady. This lady has a slightly extroverted voice, which may cause distrust in some introverts. This is a case of a difference in similarity of voices because the extroverts voice is different than that of the introvert the message of the extrovert voice may seem less appealing to the introvert. For the most part though all that matters is the consistency of her voice, that her message is the same as her voice. It would make most users uncomfortable if her nice, peppy voice said something saddening such as the bus had broken down. In the end, the intersection would benefit the most from a bus stop with a nice, soothing voice that told users when busses would arrive.


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