for Soundscape Awareness and Protection

359 - 1985 Wallace Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6R 4H4 Phone (604) 222-0207
Web Site: www.quiet.org E-mail: info@quiet.org

Fall 2009

 Sonic Scrutiny

Decibel readings on Metro Vancouver public transit vehicles and other places

By Hans Schmid

Public transportation is an important means to get around for many people. Considering the growing human encroachment on the natural environment and damage done to it, this type of transportation should replace much more of the use of private motor vehicles.

For that, it has to become more convenient, affordable, and accessible. As a paraplegic I can now access almost all transit vehicles in Metro Vancouver, although, in spite of great improvements to the system over the years, many details need to be fixed. One of them is the fact that the wheelchair stops along some routes are still far apart. Another is the sonic situation.

Beeping, hissing busses
All modern buses have an automatic stop announcement. Quite often the voice is turned up to rather high volume. I observed that some drivers can set the volume at their discretion, while others said they couldn’t. It is important to consider the needs of blind people, but not at painful levels. Upon “kneeling” (lowering) the bus for easier ingress and egress of frail people, a loud blast of compressed air issues, accompanied by some loud warning beeps. When either the ramp or lift is lowered for wheelchair or baby buggy access, there is more infernally loud beeping, which most people totally ignore. I saw some people almost stumble over a moving, beeping ramp or lift.

On practically all transit vehicles it is prohibited to play a radio or similar device. This rule is well observed. Yet, on the smaller shuttle buses many drivers play some “music” or programme either for themselves or, perhaps as an added service for the passengers, taking completely for granted that everybody likes it. When asked to turn it off or at least lower the volume, some refuse and others are rather indignant about it. I have not yet had the chance to inquire if all buses, including the shuttles, are subject to the same rules.

Cell-phone talkers
Of course, this rant wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the obnoxious cell-phone yakkers. Seldom is one of them considerate enough to speak at a low voice, to keep the conversation reasonably private. Merely observing the behaviour of these talkers could keep a researcher occupied for a long time. In some cases I took readings of the sound level in a bus and paid attention to the increase when at least one yakker near me started to speak. That immediately drove the level up by about 3 dBA, doubling the sound energy. More often than not there are several yakkers at it simultaneously. On one occasion I found at least 80% of passengers on the phone at once, most of them speaking, some shouting. Yes, lots of people have a conversation, but those on the phones seem to get so engaged in their talk that they become oblivious of their surroundings.

Travelling around the region
We had a long dry season this year, enticing us to travel locally on transit buses, sea-buses and sky-trains to explore parts of Metro Vancouver. Sitting at the privileged wheelchair places, equipped with our Radio Shack analogue sound-level meter and note paper on my lap, I obtained a wide range of readings, all stated in decibels on the A-scale (dBA). On Canada Day, July 1st, my partner and I boarded a # 4 trolley bus to UBC. The meter showed levels between 68 and 74 with the bus in motion (air flow,ambient sounds, motor and passengers). The level rose to 80 with the automatic stop announcements, 84 when passengers chatted simultaneously. During stops the level dropped to about 60, with no other traffic passing.

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Notice of Annual General Meeting

Date: Monday, October 19, 2009 Time: 7:30 p.m. Location: 3788 W. 8th Ave., Vancouver (In the lobby of a residential building, one block north of West Broadway and half a block west of Alma Street) Speaker: Mr. Michael Gibson, Moving Sound Technologies Inc., Representative for Mosquito Canada Topic: “Perfect pitch to silence louts!” The Mosquito is a device to irk away undesirable loiterers with special sound.

Entire contents 2006 Right to Quiet Society. Cartoon 1996 Right to Quiet Society

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