Translink Buzzer Blog

What’s with the cowbell noise before the bus announcements?

A real cowbell! Sort of sounds like the new alert tone on the buses! (Photo by <a href=>ewwhite</a>.)

A real cowbell! Sort of sounds like the new alert tone on the buses! (Photo by ewwhite.)

Hey, there’s a new alert tone on the buses before the stop announcements!

It sounds kind of like a cowbell—-although others have also said that it sounds like a cowbell with a sock stuffed inside, a trolley ding, a Chinese musical instrument, dropping a pipe on a ground, or somebody hitting a giant bell.

Well, the tone change isn’t just because we have a fever for more cowbell.

Coast Mountain Bus Company has changed the sound because the previous tone sounded too much like the stop request tone. Bus operators and passengers raised the concern, as some people weren’t sure if the stop had been requested or not.

With the new alert tone, the bus company tried to pick a sound that was distinctive but not offensive, and one that accomplished the objective of getting passengers’ attention to the coming announcement.

If you have any questions or concerns about the new tone, please feel free to contact Customer Relations — your feedback is how we found out the old tone was too similar to the stop request in the first place!

And check out this previous Buzzer blog post for more about our annunciator system works.

Edit: CMBC has confirmed that it’s a trolley (streetcar) bell sound, not a cowbell.


  • By Dan, May 15, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    I was a little surprised of the sound today. But the sound did need to be changed as it was way too similar. The new “cowbell” sound actually sounds like someone hitting a mallet against a fire bell instead of a cow bell. Overall i don’t mind the sound but it may get annoying after awhile.

    Have a good weekend

  • By Derek Cheung, May 15, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    Well, the pseudo-cowbells are an improvement, but they’ll never do justice to the real bells in the Swiss Alps!

    More problematic I find are the terrible, sorrowful mispronounciations on our buses of our streets and avenues. Everytime I hear a name get distorted by the computer voice, I cringe and imagine a generation or two from now mispronounce these names richly imbued with history. I then fear that the true, correct pronounciations become lost to the past. And, over time, the mispronounciations influence newer but distorted spellings of our streets and avenues. These sorts of things have happened before–it wouldn’t be the first time. Enough said.

  • By Derek Cheung, May 15, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

    Who is this other Derek Cheung? Is there really two Derek Cheungs who read the Buzzer Blog?

  • By Citaro/Vitus, May 15, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

    Well, I find the ring more like a railway crossing type of ring. It sounds different on all bus types, so on some it might do well, but on some others, it can be found very irritating. It doesn’t sound good at all, and everyone I talked to about it today cannot imagine themselves adjusting to the change. They should do a poll like this on Translink Listens with different types of recorded rings that won’t confuse operators or passengers. Now referring to your statement that passengers got confused is unpractical since passengers can look up at the LED sign. I find that drivers needed the change of the previous ring as they might not have had time to look down on the dash to see if they need to stop at the next stop or not. My prediction is that the ring will get changed once more at the least and they should refer to the public and transit officials to see what suits us all best.

  • By East Side Rider, May 16, 2009 @ 12:16 am

    For me the worst part of the ring is that seat below the speaker when I have a headache. It’s really irritating. I’ve learned to choose seats that are away from the speakers. Be careful about getting seats at the back of the bus, the seats are elevated so your head is closer to the speakers. It’s as bad as the idiot screaming on the cellphone behind you.

  • By Tsushima Masaki, May 16, 2009 @ 1:47 am

    I just noticed the change today and I thought it was just in Burnaby. I don’t really like the new sound; to me it sounds a bit more obtrusive. I’ll probably learn to tolerate it but I hope they change it.

    I know all buses don’t have the same stop request tones, and some buses don’t even make a sound before the announcements.

  • By Dave Hughes, May 16, 2009 @ 3:53 am

    There seems to be a general trend that I also subscribe to: the new chime is annoying. The driver has the ability to disable the chime before street announcements, and I can foresee even more drivers doing this than before.

    @Derek, I haven’t noticed too many mispronounced street names, but I have noticed that there are some streets which are constantly inaudible. Burnwood, on Burnaby Mountain while riding the 135 eastbound, for example. Even with the chime to pull attention to the announcement, I don’t recall ever hearing this street, save for the ‘ood’ sound at the end.

    @Citaro, I disagree that the driver is in need of the stop chime, I believe it’s more of an accessibility feature to assist those with visual impairments. Most buses in service (especially the New Flyers, which is so obtrusive I can see the dash from the back of the bus) have very obvious “stop” lights for the drivers, who should not require more than a split second to realize a stop has been requested.

    @East Side Rider, there is one articulated bus, often used on the 135 route, which has a faulty speaker at the back of the bus which (since the introduction of the announcement system) screeches, loudly, at least once every 45 seconds. It’s not fun.

  • By Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, May 16, 2009 @ 8:12 am

    Re: above, second post [By Derek Cheung, May 15, 2009 @ 5:38 pm] was actually posted by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg. Somehow it was misattributed.

  • By Ken Campbell, May 16, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    Why does there have to be a sound before the announcement at all? Yes, the previous tone was confusing, but this one is downright annoying. The poor drivers. I could tell from some of their comments yesterday that they are not enamoured with the new clang.

  • By Dave Hughes, May 16, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

    @Ken, the chime is helpful as it draws your attention to it, and since the announcement comes at a seemingly random point between stops, trying to listen for it over all the ambient noise is difficult. If I’m not mistaken, when the system was first installed, it did not have a chime, and most people couldn’t even guess at what was said because the message came without warning. (Note, it’s to help those who can’t read the signs)

    Nevertheless, the “cowbell” is incredibly annoying.

  • By Dan, May 16, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

    Regard my first comment. Scrap the “cowbell” It is annoying as hell. I thought it would help but it does absolutely no good. For example. It goes “**DONG** Howard Ave” (and it was pretty loud.) 4 stops later a guy was totally out of it “hey man did we pass Howard ave?” It seems people never listened before and don’t listen now. This gave me a huge headache as well i could hear it over my iPod. even with the hearing/visually impaired they do the same thing as before and do not pay attention. Then if the miss the stop, they yell at the driver. It’s not needed as it did no good before and it does no good now except giving headaches and driving people nuts. This is something i would not spend $40 – $60 million on.

    That’s my rant..

  • By Sean Turvey, May 17, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    The sound reminds me more of the “Ring the Bell” game at the carnival. I think a soft mallet hitting a crystal glass would be pleasant.

    Also CMBC could sell it to companies as the world’s shortest advertisment. No words just one recognizable sound, like the Intel sound from tv commercials. Three seconds max to remind people of your product.

  • By Dan B, May 17, 2009 @ 9:08 am

    Why not use the two-tone chime from the SkyTrain MK I cars that is played just before the announcement of the train’s line name and terminus? (You know, *ding-dong* “Expo Line to King George”)

  • By Reva, May 17, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

    When I first heard the sound on Friday, I thought the bus had run over a loose manhole cover or something! I found the bong sound almost comical for a few minutes, but it quickly got very irritating. At night I find it especially annoying, with fewer people needing picked up / dropped off, the bus cruises past all the stops quickly, with the bong marking all those stops, loudly, as frequently as every 15-20 seconds!

    I agree with pretty much every other person who posted here that some other kind of chime would be much preferable to the jarring cowbell bong. Perhaps a variation of the “ding” SkyTrain uses before announcing “The next station is…” I don’t think that’s too similar to the electronic “clink” you get when the bell is rung. Something of a higher pitch than the cowbell would be more pleasant, imho.

    @ Dave Hughes: I’ve also noticed that many street names are completely inaudible. Most announcements go something like “…**muffled**…Road!” The word “Street”, “Road”, “Avenue”, etc. is usually loud & clear, but that’s no good if you’re blind and want to hear the actual name of the street you’re coming to. That’s worse than not having the announcements at all. Also, on different buses, and in different areas of each bus, the volume and clarity of the announcement varies greatly. It is annoying to me and I’m not even blind — the primary purpose of those announcements is to be heard clearly, but much more often than not, they are unclear or only partly clear (or they blow a hole in your eardrum). Is Translink working to fix this problem?

  • By Dave Hughes, May 17, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

    I spoke to a driver last night, and he said that he wasn’t too bothered by the sound, though he was initially. Of course this is the account of one person, but if the drivers are able to accept it, I’m sure the rest of us will as well.

    Something I did notice last night however, is that the cowbell is louder than the old chime, which makes the street names even harder to hear.

  • By Marvin Boutlier, May 18, 2009 @ 8:45 am

    Why have a bell/clang at all? Why not just preface the destination with “the next stop is” just like on the B-line?

  • By Dave 2, May 18, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    @Derek, this has happened to me too, there definitly is a bug in the buzzer blog. it seems that if two people who have previously posted a comment are reading the comments at the same time, and one makes a comment, it may be attributed to the other reader. The session is being ‘shared’. Others have noticed this and commented about it in other blogs…technically it’s an unintentional session hijack


  • By Irvine Lagman, May 19, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Thanks for changing it so as not to confuse passengers. But how about those people who have low tolerance to the amount of decibel this sound creates. I was on the bus with a senior and she mentioned it’s too loud for her as it gives feedback on her hearing aid, leaving a ringing sound after. I think we need to look at it again, this may be an isolated case but this poor senior will always have problem as she takes the bus everyday to go to her senior activities. I hope that there will not be any long term, permanent damage this “cowbell” will give this lovely woman.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 19, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    Quick notes:

    – I’ve asked before and the buses don’t use a “The next stop is” prefix because on some routes the stops are very close together—meaning the announcement needs to be quick.

    – Re: announcements too loud/too soft/etc: Volume level is a real challenge for this system. There’s 14 different types of bus with varying quality of audio systems — some work really well, some just suck. As we go on and start replacing/upgrading buses, the audio systems should get better and more consistent. Check out the earlier blog post about the annunciators for some more detail.

    – Again, if you hate the cowbell sound, please make sure you write to Customer Relations about it. The feedback gets passed on to the staff who manage the annunciator system!

    – Yes, the Buzzer blog has had a consistent problem with names/emails getting mismatched with comments and appearing in other people’s browsers. I’m just as annoyed by it as you are — plus it is a definite issue when trying to keep people’s email address private. I have passed this concern along numerous times to our web staff, and they have been trying to work on it — the challenge is that it has been tough for them to replicate the problem consistently. Please, if you have any advice on fixing this, it would be really helpful!

    – After hearing the cowbell sound a few more times this weekend, I think it sounds like the bell during a boxing match.

  • By Ben K, May 19, 2009 @ 10:59 am

    I haven’t yet ridden a bus since the cowbell’s introduction, so I can’t offer a personal opinion yet, but I do have a related comment/question: why is the “door is starting to open” / “door is now open” sound identical to the “stop request” sound? That has always perplexed (and mildly irritated due to its tedium of repetition) me.

    Also, I don’t buy the argument about “the next stop is” taking too much time to utter between stops: in a regular speaking voice, it takes about two to three seconds to say. I imagine the cowbell can’t be much faster than a second. So, the stops are so close that an economy of two seconds is absolutely required?


  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 19, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    I think the repetition was also an issue — having “The next stop is” for routes with many stops might drive operators nuts. But again, if you think the “The next stop is” would work better, please send your comment along to Customer Relations and they will get that into the system and over to the annunciator staff.

  • By Ben K, May 19, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    I just loaded the buzzer blog and when I read the ‘running for the bus’ thread, the Name preloaded was “Robert”… in this thread I’m “Ben K”

    If it helps, the browser at work is Firefox, and I’ve posted at home this weekend as well, with IE

    Dave 2 (not Ben K)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 19, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    Blarrrghhhh — this broken blog sucks. Thanks for the info — I’ll forward it on!

  • By Derek Cheung, May 19, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    Methinks it sounds like a streetcar/tram gong, as heard on the streetcars of Toronto or the trams of Melbourne. Or on the interurban cars of the Downtown Historic Railway along the south shore of False Creek!

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 20, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    Derek: you’re right, it is actually a trolley bell noise. I’ve just made a new post about it, with a little MP3 of the sound :)

  • By Irvine Lagman, May 20, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

    Please not an mp3 of the trolley bell…. Enough already!!!!!!! Change the alert sound please!!! I’m begging you Translink!!!

  • By Dennis Tsang, May 20, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Regarding volume, operators can set the volume of announcements from their console too.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, May 20, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    They can, but I’m told that operators are only supposed to set the volume during the start of their trip and then stay the course. It’s for safety reasons: the goal is to help operators focus on the road rather than fiddling with sound throughout their journey. The volume also can’t be turned off completely — there’s a minimum volume level. (I pulled this from my earlier blog post on the annunciators.)

  • By Sean Turvey, May 24, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

    It wouldn’t be too hard to install a sound level meter. The annunciator would automatically adjust for the noise level in real time.

  • By Andrew S, July 13, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

    I also think that the bell sound should be different! Like how the SkyTrain MK1s have this *ding* before it says “The Next Station is…”. And it sounds like a mallet hitting a glass bottle which is cooler than a “trolley bell”

  • By Linda, February 1, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    This noise has damaged my hearing. It is limiting my ability to get around the Lower Mainland. Can we get a Lawsuit started about this?? Can we get an Audiologist, ENT Physician and maybe sound soud experts to evaluate it? I’ve been buying a monthly bus pass for about 35 years in Vancouver, and this noise/assault on auditory cortex and ear physiological is not okay and it is detrimental in many ways, including lessening the attractive of choosing public transit for commuters. This noise, for instance, damaged my hearing on the way to my ear specialist apt.!!! The Human Rights Tribunal has also approved the grounds for a case, as it limit the right to take transit for those adversely affected by the noise/metallic clanging type auditory assault. Ear function can be quite delicate, which this noise is certainly not. Also, the CAW Union is very displeased and frustrated with it as well.

  • By Bobbie Bees, June 30, 2010 @ 12:34 am

    Forget about the silly cowbell, screeching voice and the way it mangles words, i.e. Barclay Street sounds like Broccoli Street.
    What I find really ear shattering is the unloader valve on the air compressor for the trolleys and the exhaust from the dump valve for the kneel function.

  • By peter, March 28, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

    it’s a cattle prod. Pretty sick, eh? I bet Translink officials never ride the bus and hear the assortment of (some are deafening) digital signal sounds.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano - Buzzer Editor, March 28, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Peter: Which noise is a cattle prod?

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