The Pawtucket/Central Falls MBTA commuter rail stop opened to much fanfare in January, but like any major project, there were some hiccups along the way.
Like how the automated voice on board pronounced the name of the station. This classic shibboleth, this instant identifier of outsiders, this subject of a Frog and Toad T-shirt: Pawtucket. And the RIPTA 78 bus that I took to get there was no better.
PAWWWW-tucket, the computerized voices said.
To which any self-respecting Rhode Islander or Warwick mayor spotting a rare black coyote would say: Why the long paws?
But the team at Keolis Commuter Services, the operating partner for the MBTA’s commuter rail, has taken a crack at fixing it.
”When a new station opens there is always a lot to figure out,” said Keolis spokeswoman Alana Westwater. “Some things are obvious, like establishing the schedule, and some things are more subtle. This is a particular instance where the Keolis Digital Solutions Team took on one of those more subtle, but important, challenges. We appreciate their hard work and the input of the team at RIDOT so that we could improve our on-board announcements. We are proud to serve the folks in the Pawtucket and Central Falls communities.”
The onboard announcement system uses software from Clever Devices and the Nuance text-to-speech library to create the automatic voice announcements, according to Keolis. Its digital solutions team uses the text-to-speech library for tough-to-crack pronunciations like Haverhill and Worcester.
Confronted with the Pawtucket pronunciation conundrum, that team tried phonetic computerized pronunciations of “pahtucket,” “putucket,” “puhtucket,” and “pu’tucket.” The Rhode Island Department of Transportation provided feedback, and they settled on “puh tucket,” with a space and altering the first syllable, to get a little closer to authenticity in the new and improved version.
I asked Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien to check out these recordings, and he said the following in a text relayed by his staff: “Not sure what I just listened to, but clearly, these people have never visited Pawtucket.”
And “the new version is somewhat better, but could use some work obviously,” he added.
On a more serious note: This hasn’t kept too many people away from taking the train. The most recent ridership counts for daily train boardings at the station number 439 people, according to RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin. Pre-pandemic estimates were for 479 daily boardings, “so we are about where we expected and trending upwards,” St. Martin said.
”It is clear that the new Transit Center has been well-received by commuters,” St. Martin said.
Grebien’s on board, too.
”The benefits for our city have been plentiful, and we only expect more to come,” he said via text.
Other recent transit news: The General Assembly budget doesn’t have a solution for RIPTA’s fiscal cliff. Also, legislation to make RIDOT’s director the chair of RIPTA’s board is up for a House committee hearing today.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.