Ride gets a shade smoother

March 30, 2004

IT'S AY-BELL, not Ah-bell Avenue. Goff - or Golf - not Go Street. The small (and comparatively few) verbal tics in the Maryland Transit Administration's automatic route announcer's vocabulary have grated on bus riders' sensibilities since the system was installed in 2000. But hope is at hand.

MTA is loading an update to the on-board route databases on its voice-equipped buses. Eventually, all 244 buses will call out Gough Street the way a Baltimorean would recognize, though chances are good one still will hear it wrong on some trips for a while.

For regular riders, the new pronunciation is a tiny shock; a skip in the repetitive soundtrack of the daily commute. A cause for idle speculation: Has the voice finally embraced Charm City? Did it hear our collective silent groan? No, just the usual upgrade to an ever-changing web of routes and stops.

Added in response to a lawsuit forcing MTA to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the service doesn't aid only blind or deaf riders. For people taking a different route, for anyone trying to read street signs in the rain or the dark and for tourists - the heart of one of the city's chief industries - the soothing voice helps many get to their destinations. Bus drivers on nonautomated routes are supposed to call out the stops themselves, but their concentration on traffic perhaps causes them to forget.

Of course, the automated announcer can't speak a wholly Bawlmerese dialect, because she needs to be understood by people of all dialects and they can't exactly ask her to repeat herself. Some visitors might well never reach Highlandtown if it were intoned closer to native usage - what foreign ears would hear as Hollandtown - which wouldn't help boost the area's renaissance.

Ridding the bus of those few petty verbal annoyances isn't the biggest problem MTA needs to solve, but it's a welcome sign of progress. Now if it could only rid the outside ticker-type signs of that frequent "Not in Service" announcement, the agency would be onto something.

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