Rolling along Fort Avenue yesterday on an MTA bus, Helen Hayes heard a soothing female voice speak to her. It told her that the next intersection would be at Boyle Street.
For the 55-year-old blind Baltimore woman, it was a revelation. "I've never heard of that street," she said. She had never heard of it because she and other blind passengers have had to rely, not always successfully, on drivers or fellow riders to call out cross streets.
By spring, 80 of the Mass Transit Administration's newest buses will be equipped with Intelligent Vehicle Network devices that will announce intersections, transfers and stops to ease public transportation for the blind.
One hundred additional new buses with the devices will roll out next year, said Ruth F. Silverstone, MTA director of interagency programs and Americans With Disabilities Act coordinator.
MTA officials say the devices, which are manufactured by a New York company and cost $10,000 each, will help all passengers, including tourists and people who have trouble reading street signs. Similar devices are used in Washington, Pittsburgh and Dallas.
"We did some test rides Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and people said they were very pleased," said Aaron Smith, manager of bus operations for the MTA. "We've had no complaints."
Blind transit patrons, including Hayes, had a similar reaction yesterday, when about 40 of them took a test drive not far from the Johnson Street headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind. When the voice announced the first cross street, many cheered.
The device, which communicates with satellites to keep track of cross streets, is behind the driver's seat. Eight speakers enable passengers to hear the voice.