Mind the gap: Why no one is listening to Delhi Metro announcements
Announcements have been an integral part of Delhi Metro since its inception. But many feel they have lost their persuasive power and it time to make them a little peppier and a little more empathic.Updated: Feb 25, 2019 20:02 IST
It is 7 pm on a Thursday. As a Metro train heading toward Noida City Centre rumbles into the Rajiv Chowk station, the commuters rush in to grab empty seats. Some of those who have lost the battle for seats stand in the middle, others at the gate, almost leaning on the doors. As the train starts, a familiar male voice crackles on the speakers, followed by a female voice — informing commuters about the next station, and that the doors will open on the left, that the first car in the moving direction is reserved for ladies; then comes a request to vacate seats for the differently abled, senior citizens and women; and a reminder on how they are supposed to stand at the centre of the exit door while alighting.
The announcements barely stop, but no one seems to be listening. With earphones plugged in, most commuters are listening to music on their mobile phones. “I live in Noida and work in Janakpuri and spend about three hours a day in the Metro; I use headphones not so much to listen to music as to drown out the cacophony inside a Metro compartment, including these never-ending announcements,” says Atul Kapur, a marketing professional. “Most announcements, except those informing about the next station, and which side the doors will open, can be done away with. I have been travelling in the Metro for over a decade and know the drill.”
On an average, about 30 kinds of general announcements are made on the Metro, including what the Metro calls “mandatory’ announcements on the next station, door opening, destination station during a journey — repeatedly one after another in both male and female voices.
After complaints of ‘excessive announcements’ from commuters such as Kapur, this week Delhi Metro decided to reduce on a trial basis the number of in-train announcements on the Magenta Line to only seven. The rest will only be displayed on the screens inside the compartments. “Based on the feedback, we will decide whether we should do it on other lines too,” says Anuj Dayal, chief spokesperson, Delhi Metro.
Transit announcements have been an integral part of the lives of commuters across the world, with broadcasters, well-known TV personalities, musicians and actors lending their voices, requesting passengers to have the patience for delays in journeys, cautioning them to mind the gap and nudging them not to lean on the door. While Delhi Metro, which commenced its journey in 2002, has borrowed most of its announcements from other transit systems, it has been adding newer ones over the years. But commuters feel these have lost their punch and persuasive powers.
“People continue to eat on the Metro, they continue to sit on the floor, and they rarely vacate their seats for the elderly,” says Aditya Gupta, an IT professional who travels between Civil Lines and Gurgaon on the Yellow Line. “I think it is time Metro not only curtailed the announcements but also rewrote some to make them a little peppier and brighter. While both the male and female voices are great, Metro should bring in new guest voices,” says Gupta, citing the examples of Vancouver, a city that last year roped in actor Morgan Freeman and Seth Rogen to make transit announcements for a limited period.
Himani Dubey, a graphic designer, agrees, “Metro is getting crowded by the day, and the delays are increasing. So, a message like ‘there will be a short delay in this journey. We apologise for the inconvenience…’ does not help,” says Dubey. “Metro needs to change the way it communicates with passengers. Apart from the automated announcement system, there could be a few cheery announcements from the operators. In fact, the New York City subway is doing it now to be more empathic to commuters.”
Shammi Narang and Rini Simon Khanna — both celebrated news anchors with Doordarshan in the 1980s and 90s, whose voices echo out to almost three million commuters of Delhi Metro every day — say as transit announcers, their main job is to help people get to where they’re going. “I am like their invisible teacher. One needs to understand that metro announcements are not like a song being sung. You have to get people to pay attention, and accordingly have to mould your voice. It has to be a voice of calm and assurance,” says Khanna.
And both believe that Metro can indeed curtail the number of announcements on the trains. “As a commuter, I would want some silence. There is no point drilling the same messages over and over again into someone who has been doing the same route for years. He or she will get tired of unnecessary messages,” says Khanna. She first heard her voice on the Metro in 2011. “More than anything else, I took the opportunity to gauge people’s reaction to my announcements, and I realised they were very receptive, especially to the ‘mind the gap’ announcement.”
Narang and Khanna have recorded hundreds of announcements that commuters have never heard. “They are meant for certain situations, including emergencies. You have not heard them because thankfully those emergencies have never arisen and hopefully they will not,” says Narang, who recorded his first announcement in 2001 and latest on February 6 about the opening of the skywalk with travelators connecting the Airport Express Line’s Dhaula Kuan station with Delhi Metro Pink Line’s Durgabai Deshmukh South Campus.
In fact, Metro has a bank that contains hundreds of announcements, including topical ones regarding the book fair, trade fair or other events near stations, and play them according to the need and situation. “Every month, I record one or two messages for Delhi metro. Among the messages I have recorded is one about prohibiting pets,” says Narang. “When Metro started in 2002, apart from mandatory announcements such as the next station, most other announcements were about how to use the card and token and other facilities.” Not many know that some announcements -– for example, ‘beware of pickpockets’-- are more frequently played at Chawri Bazar and Chandni Chowk stations than others.
There are occasions when Narang and Khanna have to record special messages almost on the fly. Once such occasion was in 2012 when Pratibha Patil, the then President, was to take a ride in the Metro. “We were asked to record a special welcome message, and we only had a day to do so. We worked through the night, the message was recorded, tested and played during the President’s ride,” says Narang.
His favourite announcement is one requesting people to vacate seats for the elderly and children. Making transit announcements, he says, requires correct tone, pronunciation, modulation and projection. “A lot of people rely on us for learning correct pronunciation for many city streets and localities. I have to be careful about some stations such as Dashrath Puri, Vishwavidyalaya, and even Karol Bagh, where pronouncing ‘Bagh’ is quite tricky,” says Narang.
Narang first travelled on a Metro in 2003 with his wife and parents between Kashmere Gate and Tis Hazari after her mother expressed her desire to hear his voice on the train. “I had already earned fame as a Doordarshan newsreader and at that time did not think recording Metro announcements was a big deal,” says Narang, who, not many know, is a mechanical engineer by education. Sixteen years on, he feels Metro has immortalised his voice.
“Earlier I was famous as Doordarshan news reader, now I am better known as Metro Uncle. I am invited as a guest at schools where children imitate my voice at their programmes. They will say things like ‘Teacher ke anne tak darwaje band rahegey (the doors will remain closed till the teacher arrives), ” says Narang, who along with Khanna, has also recorded announcements for the Metro in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Lucknow, Jaipur -- at his Hauz Khas Enclave studio.
“A lot of people visit the studio, curious to know how metro announcements are recorded. But what I regret is the fact that while we have come to be known as the voice of the Metro, we do not find any mention in the Metro museum,” says Narang, as he sits in front of the microphone, headphones on, ready for a recording.