Public transport that talks to you is hardly new – the Central Line has talked for years, and other Tubes and trains have also begun to call out each stop. Diamond Geezer first noticed this aural pollution hit the buses last summer, and it’s taken a peculiarly long time to reach most of the buses in this part of south-east London. But I got back from New York a month back to see the venerable old 53 had fallen, and today, on a quick rain-avoiding run to the shops, the 380 seemed to be announcing: “Brahm-shot Avenue”. You what?
Actually, mis-pronouncing Bramshot Avenue is the first clear mistake I’ve heard so far. I might even have mis-heard it. Most of the others have been eccentricities, like calling Blackheath’s Royal Standard junction a chirpy “Charlton Road – Batley Park!” after the little patch of green in the middle, or calling out “Sainsburys at Greenwich Peninsula”, but not the nearby Asda (which wouldn’t be fair on the other shops nearby, or to customers lured into that gloomy supermarket). It really should be “Grinn-ige”, not “Gren-itch”, but that’s another battle. Oh, and how “Bexleyheath Shopping Centre!” is announced with joyous tones, yet “Bexleyheath Bus Garage” is said almost apologetically.
I don’t feel particularly irritated by the thought of Emma Hignett‘s voice booming out at me on my travels – it fades into the background on familiar journeys, although it was a strange experience having her join me for a three-bus overnight trek from a party in distant Willesden recently (“N98…to..Holborn!” “453! to…Deptford Bridge” etc) – I’ll concede the iPod came in handy after the first bus.
Giving each bus stop a name, though, is giving a different perspective to rides I’ve done many times in the past – like “The Squirrels”, instead of “half-way up the hill as you come out of Lewisham towards Blackheath Village”, which presumably would be a bit of a mouthful. And I’m still quite impressed by the technology behind it – reading into it, it gets updated weekly to allow for changes and corrections, and it is supposed to have all kinds of benefits for making sure the buses are actually on time.
But it does make the bus feel a little less human. It’s a big change for the drivers, who’ve been chronicling its ups and downs on a forum, On quiet nights, it’d just be you, the driver, and his radio announcing a delay in some distant part of town. A few weeks back I was having a laugh with a 380 driver about a woman clearly trying to use her feminine charms to get a free ride. Now Emma’s keeping an eye on us, it won’t feel the same.
And from next spring, there’ll be no quiet spots on the network. Town or country, Westerham to West End, Emma’s going to be with us.
But hey, if all this means I can do now what I can do with the trains; call up the TfL website, find out a 380’s just pulled into Charlton Village, pull on a pair of shoes on and run down to the bus stop, it might just be worth it. Because we will be able to do that soon, won’t we? Boris?