Garbled railway announcements have been fodder for screenwriters ever since movies got sound. Klaxon-like PA horns assault travelers in echoic subway tunnels and glass-ceilinged train stations, turning needed information into gibberish. Connections missed, boy loses girl, comedy, mayhem ensues.
Or not. Those kinds of frustrating scenarios are becoming a relic of an earlier era in mass transit thanks to advances in the technologies used for communications and messaging, and as importantly, the ongoing convergence of multiple media platforms, including audio, video and digital signage.
The technology used in individual audio-video system components has substantially evolved in recent years. For instance, flat-panel video displays mean that information in the form of digital signage can be placed virtually anywhere, at far lower costs than older CRT technology and with far lower maintenance costs.
Horn-type speakers are being replaced with fixed arrays of multiple smaller speakers. These can be aimed very precisely, keeping the energy they produce away from reflective surfaces such as train and bus station walls. That significantly improves intelligibility, the acoustical gold standard in assessing how well information can be understood by listeners.
Municipal and regional mass transit systems have been utilizing advances in AV and acoustical technology to make their environments more pleasant, more inviting and safer. One excellent example is the main train terminal in St. Gallen, in northeast Switzerland. Using speakers tuned specifically for the environment they’re used in to maximize intelligibility, a BSS Soundweb DSP digital signal processing device and microphones constantly monitors ambient sound levels throughout the station and automatically adjusts the system’s volume as needed.
Announcements made during the passing of a train are automatically increased in volume and lowered when the trains are not moving. A special timing option abates the volume correction at night in consideration of the quality of life of the local residents.
Improvements like these stem from consumer demand for better sound in other areas of their life. Some observers point to the establishment of the THX standards for cinema sound 30 years ago, when Star Wars producer George Lucas realized that all the effort he was putting into the sound of those pictures was being lost in movie theaters where a poor sound system could negatively affect the audience’s impression of the movie. Once cinema sound got better, consumers began demanding better sound in other places, from restaurants to houses of worship. Mass transit hubs and stations represent perhaps the last, possibly the most challenging, but almost certainly the most potentially beneficial major frontier in the pursuit of good sound.
Better Audio And Video Are Worth The Effort
Addressing acoustical and AV systems solutions in tens of thousands of locations through the nation’s mass transit systems is an expensive proposition, but there are very compelling reasons to undertake this mission. Mass transit usage is on the increase, up 1.5 percent in 2012 over the previous year. That equates to 10.5 billion trips taken nationally, the highest since 2008 and the second-highest total since 1957.
In the wake of an extended period of economic downturn, more people look to mass transit to get them to and from work. More people returning to urban cores to work and live also augurs for increased use of mass transit. Studies show that people who live in areas with convenient access to public transportation not only save a substantial amount on transportation costs, but experience an increase in their property value as well.