Electric buses were strutting their stuff for riders and Metro Transit officials in the Twin Cities again this week, emphasizing their fuel savings, low emissions, and comparatively silent running. It’s the relative silence that has caught our attention at Vision Loss Resources.
“We’re all for the cleaner environment electric buses would bring to the Twin Cities,” Kate Grathwol, Vision Loss Resources CEO said, “we’re also very aware that electric vehicles pose a danger because they’re so quiet.”
Grathwol and two orientation and mobility instructors for people with vision loss got a firsthand look at an electric bus manufactured by BYD Motors (Build Your Dreams) earlier this week.
It is not simply people with vision loss or blindness who are at risk, explained Grathwol; any vulnerable pedestrian, from children to aging adults, should be concerned about the lack of any audible indication of an electric vehicle approaching.
Grathwol said city planners are adding more walking and biking opportunities in the Twin Cities, and Vision Loss Resources wants to be proactive: “You’ve probably seen people staring at their phones or wearing ear buds as they cross streets. It’s not only people with visual impairment who rely on traffic noise to help keep them safe. We want to see that this measure of safety continues for all pedestrians.”
Grathwol sees an opportunity to educate Twin Cities’ pedestrians and bicyclists on an issue that affects safety and mobility. An alert sound that is recognizable as a motor vehicle in operation would allow pedestrians and cyclists to reasonably detect a nearby electric vehicle operating below the crossover speed. Crossover speed is the speed at which tire noise, wind noise and other factors eliminate the need for a separate alert sound, or other audible indicator.
“It was great to get up close to look at and listen to the electric bus,” said Grathwol. “We’ll stay on top of this issue and we will help to spread the word among social services that serve older adults and our community of people with vision loss or blindness.”
Electric buses are not completely noiseless; it is easy to hear their acceleration and deceleration while riding it, but these sounds are quieter outside. While riding an electric bus with Metro Transit, we paused at a bus stop and spoke with a young man with low vision, using a white cane. He told us that he could hear the BYD bus, but he didn’t recognize the sound.
It’s a question of education: in order to stay safe, all pedestrians, bikers, and drivers must grow attuned to the different sounds produced by electric vehicles, Grathwol said.
Watch for more information about the addition of electric buses to the Metro Transit fleet. We’d really like to hear your feedback and comments about electric vehicles – hybrid cars included. Have you encountered one yet? Taken a ride on one in another city? And let us know how we can be a conduit of information on this important initiative. Share your thoughts in the comments below!
You can see photos of our trip on the bus on our Facebook page.