Growing up as a child of the 80’s, it just didn’t get any cooler than talking cars. Transformers. A band of humanoid alien robots with the ability to transform into earthly vehicles. Walking and talking cars, trucks, and buses. The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, were my definition of cool (Don’t judge me!). But a talking bus in real life is vastly less cool.
If you have spent any time in the city lately, or anywhere within earshot of a RIPTA bus route, you have probably heard a talking bus: CAUTION! BUS IS TURNING! And no, our public transportation hasn’t decided to revolt against its navy jumpsuit wearing overlords. That voice is the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s brand new “Safe Turn Alert” system. This $400,000 investment spread across most of RIPTA’s fleet. But does it actually work? GoLocalProv conducted their own investigation, “Video footage shot in numerous locations in downtown Providence shows that oftentimes, the RIPTA bus is fully engaged in the turn before the announcement starts,” reported Kate Nagle and the GoLocalProv News Team.
It's designed to warn you that…well, that the bus is turning… RIPTA reportedly installed the systems themselves. They opted for it to be initiated by the turning of the steering wheel, not by a proximity sensor. What that means is that a bus may shout at you even if it’s not about to run you over. Case in point, while driving last week I nearly jumped a curb attempting to escape a RIPTA’s rath. But the bus wasn’t really “turning,” it was simply taking the curve, just like I was. There was no potentially disastrous situation happening, nothing to caution me about really. The bus and I, mid-drive, were turning with the road. It’s distracting, which seems to be a common opinion.
There’s a certain comedic aspect to how often you hear these buses announce that they’re taking even the slightest of turns. But there’s a more serious reality behind why RIPTA’s buses are suddenly so chatty. In recent years the transportation authority has found itself entangled in more than its fair share of lawsuits. In May of 2015 GoLocalProv reported that, “In the past two years, three people have been killed by Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) buses and dozens have been injured.”
In recent years RIPTA has spent millions of dollars on buses and facility upgrades. Not to mention a proposed buses only corridor still in the works. That would shuttle Rhode Islanders from a yet unbuilt hub next to the Providence Station to a smaller location near the hospitals with periodic stops. The Providence Journal reported on this in April as city officials were looking at the corridor as an alternative to a failed idea for a streetcar, “...While the streetcar plan carried an estimated price tag of $100 million, the downtown corridor has an estimated price tag of $17 million, of which $13 million would be covered by a federal grant.”
But when it comes to the enhancements towards safety the question everyone seems to be asking: is it worth it? The answer to that is far more complicated than yes or no. Many people point to driver training and professionalism as the problem. Drivers obviously point to being put under pressure by time constraints and other facets of the job. Hop the right bus with a talkative driver and you know what I mean.
Whether or not the Safe Turn Alert will actually save lives or not is still up for debate. For now I guess all we can do is be thankful that we have RIPTAbots around to defend us against the evil Megatron when he tries to take over Providence.
Thanks for reading!
+ Colin Carlton
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Colin is a local author and freelance writer.
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