RIPTA rolls out ‘talking’ buses aimed at safety

 PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority says its new “talking” buses are more than conversation starters.

“We really think this will come down to technology helping us save lives, and there’s really no price on that,” RIPTA spokeswoman Barbara Polichetti told Eyewitness News on Tuesday.

The new technology allows the buses to “speak,” alerting pedestrians and motorists with an automated announcement that says, “Caution! The bus is turning.” Orange lights on the side of the bus flash during the announcement, as well, providing a visual alert for the hearing impaired.

Polichetti said the buses automatically issue the alert whenever the driver turns the wheel. She said officials at the transit agency wanted to make their fleet safer, especially since drivers and pedestrians are increasingly distracted.

RIPTA spent roughly $400,000 on the program, which was tested last spring and summer on a handful of buses. Last fall, the agency’s board voted to implement the technology on its entire fixed-route fleet.

“When you see our fixed-route buses on the road they will have this,” Polichetti said. “That’s about 210 vehicles.”

She also said about 90 percent of the buses have the technology already, and the rest will have it installed in the coming weeks.

The “Safe Turn Alert” system is provided by Protran Technology, a New Jersey company. Polichetti said Protran has outfitted other agencies such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Polichetti said the new “talking” buses have gotten mixed reviews, but she’s hopeful people will get used to them. But she said it’s unlikely that the buses will be talking any more than they currently do.

“I think we want to keep it minimal and keep it just focused on safety,” she said.