But one thing a computer-generated voice can’t do is cut through the monotony of the morning commute with the cheerful “All aboard!” Adelman heard one morning.
It was before 8 a.m., she recalled, and no one on her train seemed to be in a laughing mood. But she found herself chuckling, and was glad for it.
Undoubtedly, many riders view the automated announcements on the newest 7000-series trains as an improvement. But Adelman, 45, misses hearing operators’ voices now that the new trains make up a majority of Metro’s fleet.
It just feels a little less human, she said. Which, of course, it is. Fading from the commute are those occasional bits of humor and empathy for riders sorely in need of both.
Granted, few appreciate the human announcement quite as much as Adelman does. Whenever she hears a particularly entertaining or informative one, she makes a note on her phone and tweets at Metro, asking to have her compliments passed along.
Rebecca Galanti is another rider lamenting the loss of human voices. She was struck one day in February by a particular operator’s voice. It was “angelic,” she said — a word not commonly associated with Metro.
“She sounded so sweet, it brightened my morning,” said Galanti, 23. A couple of months passed without hearing it again. But one morning last week, the voice again descended through the intercom. “I recognized her voice, and it made me happy,” Galanti said.
Certainly, the silencing of operators’ voices isn’t the biggest problem riders face — “and the intercom can suck,” Adelman acknowledged — but the day before our conversation, she’d read a Twitter post from a man who had seen a woman fall and injure her knee while getting off a Metro train. He was enraged that no one else stopped.
It struck Adelman that rush hour can be dehumanizing, and in that environment, any little bit of humanity — even a voice over the intercom — can come to mean a lot.
She recalled, for example, the morning a bit of gallows humor brightened her spirits on a particularly crowded train. “Time to make friends,” the operator quipped. It did nothing to alleviate being pressed against strangers, but it made her smile.
"It helps when someone verbally empathizes with our rush-hour commute," she said.
New York’s subway has come to the same conclusion. It’s using fewer automated announcements and more human ones. According to The New York Times, the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority rewrote a script used by its operators to help them sound more empathetic to riders.
On rainy days now, operators may say something like: “Hello. Subway floors and station platforms may be slippery today. Be careful when you get on and off the train, or when taking the stairs,” The Times reported.
"It's about speaking in a more human tone, giving our customers clearer, better information, and really talking to them like they're people," a transit spokesman told the paper.
Those moments are only going to become rarer here. Metro plans to replace its last 350 2000- and 3000-series trains — on which operators still make announcements — around 2024. They’ll be replaced by next-generation 8000-series trains, which will play robo-announcements. That will leave only 184 6000-series cars out of Metro’s 1,300-car fleet where you might hear an operator, once in a while, try to cheer you up.