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)

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.


Plot Twist: Buses are actually Temples of Relaxation

     The Bus is a through-way. There is no defined standard of what one does onboard. People check their phones, stare outside, listen to music, talk to neighbors. Everyone is a passive actor existing in limbo for the three or five minutes they are on The Bus until returning to the real world, journey completed.

We are waiting. We are passively journeying.

     The hum of the engine lulls passengers into the meditative other universe of The Bus. Its sound turns mechanical in passenger’s bodies, relaxing their muscles for the ensuing 1Vipassana. The windows and their handles rattle in time with the engine, but muffle outside noise: horns, passing cars, conversation, leaf blowers.

     On recurring intervals the brakes squeal and a hydraulic hiss flows back into the cabin. Another squeal and the doors open, followed by a hiss. The open doors are portals – into the other universe you are passing amidst – through which the wind is sucked in, mixing with the rush of the air conditioner. It is like The Bus is breathing in. And out. Irregularly; sometimes every five minutes, sometimes every three minutes.

     The bus hiccups, too: brakes squeal, but do not hiss. The temporary disruption from the beast’s breathing alerts passengers to the outside world. One is, momentarily, not a meditative passenger, but a watcher of the windows as TV screens.

     One hears the sounds and knows them, but they are so constant and repetitive that you don’t hear the source, you just hear the quality – it is reduced listening. The rhythmic sounds of The Bus define it as a place in between, but the most important sound is that of the driver. Without their announcing voice, one can easily miss their stop because of the meditative atmosphere. This is the semantic and intelligibility aspect of this soundscape. As a passenger you need to hear clearly the signals from the driver to complete your purpose – the journey.


1As in Theraveda Buddhism, meditation involving concentration on the body or its sensations