Belfast Telegraph

Call for 'talking bus' upgrades

Equipping all public buses with audio announcement systems would reinvigorate the industry, attract tourists and bring environmental benefits as well as help blind and partially-sighted people, an MP has said.

Democratic Unionist Jim Shannon (Strangford) said that according to Department for Transport figures, 97% of talking buses are in London, leaving only 3% across the rest of the UK.

This means that the majority of blind passengers outside the capital have to rely on drivers to tell them where to get off, he said, a request commonly met with the response "if I remember".

Introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the Commons, Mr Shannon went on: "Of course we cannot blame the bus drivers or hold them to account because it is not really their job to do this and like all of us they do sometimes forget.

"For a sighted person missing a bus stop can be an annoyance and an inconvenience, but for a person with sight loss this can be extremely distressing and even dangerous.

"This experience can actually put people off using buses as a form of public transport."

It could also lead to someone missing a job interview, being late for work or even losing their job, he told MPs.

As well as benefiting blind people, audio announcements would support older people, be more environmentally friendly by encouraging more people to use buses, attract tourists and revive the industry, he added.

According to specialist estimates, it costs £2,100 to install audio visual (AV) on a single decker bus and £2,550 on a double decker.

This compares to the £180,000 outlay to manufacture a new double decker.

In that context, the costs were small, Mr Shannon said, and would be more than covered by the benefits.

Every £1 spent on public transport generated £3, he went on, meaning installing the systems would create an extra £15 million each year.

He concluded: "Every single person should have the freedom and the ability to move unaided throughout this great country and this great nation. This is one way of ensuring that happens."

The Bill - requiring the provision of audio announcements on public buses - was accepted at first reading.

But it is unlikely to become law in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time or without government support.

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