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It’s not a cowbell, it’s a trolley bell!

A trolley car in San Francisco. Photo by <a href=>Dave Alter</a>.

A trolley car in San Francisco. Photo by Dave Alter.

Hold up — it turns out the cowbell noise on the buses is actually a trolley bell sound!

Coast Mountain Bus Company even sent me an MP3 of the trolley bell for you to enjoy.

Marty Williamson, who I interviewed for the in-depth blog post on the annunciator system, also sent along this explanation too.

Actually the sound is a ‘Trolley Bell’ not a cowbell. The trolley bell was commonly heard during the streetcar era in Vancouver so it is a little bit of history returning for an encore. The sound was reduced to one ‘clang’ from the San Francisco trolley multiple clangs so as to hopefully be alerting and not annoying.

If you hadn’t heard yet, the trolley bell is the new alert tone on the bus announcement system, and it’s been changed since the earlier tone was too similar to the stop request. Here’s the earlier post I made on the subject.

And again, if you love/hate the new tone, send your comments to Customer Relations — your feedback is how we discovered the old tone was too similar to the stop request in the first place.


  • By Sungsu, May 20, 2009 @ 9:21 am


    The photo is of a cable car. Note the lack of a trolley pole. San Francisco does have historic trolley cars, on the F Market and Wharves line.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 20, 2009 @ 9:23 am

    Garrr — well, all I did was look up “trolley” in Flickr. Please to help me find an accurate picture?

  • By John, May 20, 2009 @ 10:21 am

    I think the proper term is “streetcar”.
    Like these old Vancouver streetcars:

  • By Sean Turvey, May 20, 2009 @ 11:42 am

    There are trolleys all over the world. Why use something that is over done already?

  • By ;-), May 20, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

    Trolley? Cable-car? Do you mean “streetcar”?

    I’ve been sick for a few days and have ridden my first bus today. OMG, that “clang” is really getting on my nerves. Perhaps it should be a simple “chirp” like a crosswalk. Otherwise the volume on that MP3 should be dropped by two-thirds, but keep the bus stop announcements as is. I assume there is only one master volume control, the drivers doesn’t have a mixer board for everything. Then again with all these modern computers, does the driver have the ability for all these detailed adjustments?

  • By JC, May 20, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

    the bell sounds fine. Chirps/Beeps are so annoying!

    Just an observation, our cities are inundated with noise… chirping sidewalk warnings… talking buses… truck back-up alarms, the kneeling bus gas release noise… (kneeling bus warning alarm – why? elevators don’t sound an alarm when they move up or down, they don’t even sound when the doors close) all we need are talking escalators/elevators like in Asia… Don’t forget we need them in multiple languages too. It’s no wonder everyone walks around with headphones, it’s to mask the city noise with their own loud music… :-/

  • By Jamie, May 23, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    The cowbell is nowhere NEAR as annoying as that beeping noise when the front of the silver buses are lowered.

  • By Jamie, May 23, 2009 @ 1:20 am

    The cowbell ding is nowhere NEAR as annoying as the kneeling bus beeping noise.

  • By Sean Turvey, May 24, 2009 @ 7:23 am

    The kneeling alert is there so people do not stand to close to the curb. In ther early days of the kneeler there were cases of toes being sheared off.

    It is a welcome sound for myself and others who have a hard time stepping up onto the bus.

    I believe the kneeler should be used every time the bus stops. There are a lot of people out there who do not use a walker, cane etc. who have a hard time boarding the bus (myself included). If the drivers kneeled the bus(or if it did this automatically when it slowed for a bus stop) every time it would make life much easier.

  • By LisaB, May 27, 2009 @ 9:11 am

    I love the trolley ding! It does help distinguish the announcements from the stop requests, and it’s cute.

    I do agree that the kneeling beeping is too loud though – I get that it is needed, but I worked in an office right above a B-line stop and had to listen to that really loud beeping every 5 minutes all day long.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 27, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    Kneeling beep haters! I invite you all to tell Customer Relations about the issue. The feedback will make it to the right people at CMBC, and they can determine whether the sound is too loud, while hopefully still making it useful for those like Sean who do find it hard to step onto the bus. (Alternatively, if you like the beeping noise/level of sound, you can feel free to send that in to Customer Relations too, and they’ll take that into account.)

  • By Gordon, May 27, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    Judging from an articlein the Sun The Cowbell may be replaced by another sound in August.

    Jhennier the buzer blog e mail doesn’t seem to work any mor.the messages come back as undeliverable.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 27, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    Really? I didn’t see a notice about an August sound change in the article, but then again I only saw the Sun piece online.

    Also I don’t know why the email isn’t working for you. I haven’t had any problems getting stuff from other people. You can always try as an alternate.

  • By Adrian Leung, May 31, 2009 @ 11:33 am

    I personally hate that trolley bell sound. The original “ding” sounded much better, though I understand that people were often confused with that and the actual STOP REQUEST sound. TransLink should go use the chime found on only MKI SkyTrains (heard when they announce the next station)

  • By PATRICK RYAN, July 7, 2009 @ 6:18 pm


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