3 voices

January 24, 2006 at 6:40 am (Portland, Random)

TriMet recently began the “transit tracker” program, which I hereby declare to be the best thing to happen to mass transit since the inception of the 90% taxpayer subsidy. Basically, every bus and train is equipped with a GPS (transponder that makes your location visible to a satellite network), and if you call a hotline it will tell you how long you have to wait until the next one arrives. I am pretty sure the estimate is based solely on distance, i.e., it doesn’t incorporate real-time traffic data, but it’s quite the start. Think about it–what is the first thing you do when you get to the station? You look down the road/track to see if you can see anything coming. Wash/rinse/repeat. I laud the effort: tracking thousands of vehicles with space probes, sending the data to a computer that calculates travel times on a road network in a major metropolitan area, and making the data available at the click of a cell phone…but couldn’t they have hired an actor or something? Maybe it’s just typical Portland-PC-run-amok, but here we have a male, female, and some combination of Arab/cyborg providing information to the traveling public. To wit:

I was going home today, and I called 503-238-7433 to see which of the two bus lines I can take to my house was due sooner (it affects my consumption patterns). I typed in the station ID number, and here is what I heard, phonetically:

Arab Cyborg: 6 MAR-tin LOO-therking JOON-yer BOO-levard to VAN-couver (read: 6 MLK Jr. Blvd. to Vancouver)

Normal Man’s Voice: Arriving in.


Normal Woman’s Voice: 4

{Awkward Pause}

Same Normal Man: Minutes.

I’m not kidding. I remember we had a talking computer in 6th grade (I’m 28). Is it that hard to standardize the voice program? Hell, I’ll read a bunch of numbers off a card for a lot less than they paid Microsoft.



  1. TSS said,

    Standardizing the voice would alienate at least one gender and all those who have accents differing from the one being used. To be truly egalitarian we must have each syllable pronouced with a distinct accent AND language, and alternating genders. You can shove your fascist voice standardization. We won’t let you oppress minorities around here!

  2. JB said,

    Spoken like a true Northwesterner.

  3. jones said,

    great idea, or rather, about time a good idea was executed.

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