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Buses that talk coming in 2016

How do you warn a distracted pedestrian of an oncoming bus? Have the bus yell at them.

By spring 2016 the agency expects to begin installing a system on its 1,400 buses that provide audio and visual cues to keep pedestrians safe from buses.

The agency ended in October an eight-month pilot program that gave 12 buses gear to issue verbal and visual warnings to walkers too distracted by text messages, Candy Crush and the latest Star Wars trailer on smart phones to notice several tons of hulking public transportation bearing down on them.

These buses had flashing lights and a Robocop-like warning that said, "Pedestrians, bus is turning."

The agency put together a video that shows what the buses do.

Though the program ended about two months ago, SEPTA saw it as so successful Scott Sauer, SEPTA's assistant general manager of system safety, brought the program up at last week's Vision Zero conference during a panel about how to make city streets safer.

The city needs to make a change. We've got some of the most dangerous streets in comparison to other big American cities. The city reported 11,000 automobile crashes a year on average from 2009 to 2013. Ninety to 100 people die in those crashes annually. Those are worse rates than New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.

SEPTA reported how many "incidents" buses and trackless trolleys (basically buses using the trolley wire system for power) were reported in the past three fiscal years, though the data gives no insight into how serious the incidents were or if anyone was injured.

  1. 2013 – 2,636

  2. 2014 – 2,637

  3. 2015 – 2,561

That averages to about 50 incidents a week. It'll be worth getting some more specifics on how serious those incidents were.

In the meantime, SEPTA said Thursday that the talking bus program was successful.

"The response from our operators was overwhelmingly positive and we are moving forward with having the system installed in all of our buses," said Heather Refern, an agency spokeswoman.

SEPTA is currently working on specifications and procurement.

Sitting in at the Vision Zero conference, what came up repeatedly was that small steps may cumulatively lead to improvement. I'll be blogging in the coming days about some other interesting information, from using lighting to make the streets safer to the common problems that make intersections dangerous, and what can be done about it.