Last reviewed 16 January 2020

We recently reported that Transport for London (TfL) has decided to test the use of a sound to make people aware that electric and hybrid vehicles are in the vicinity (see TfL to trial innovative new bus sound).

However, the move has been criticised by a leading trade union as it has warned that the new sound will in fact create dangers for road users and pedestrians given that it sounds “nothing like” a traditional bus.

Unite does not disagree that an artificial sound is necessary as electric buses are very quiet and so can potentially cause dangers for blind and partially-sighted pedestrians.

Its concerns centre on TfL’s decision to opt for a sound “like a spaceship” despite this being firmly rejected when Unite was consulted last year on some potential sounds.

No further consultation took place and Unite, which represents over 20,000 London bus drivers, was not aware that the “spaceship” sound would begin to be trialled this month.

The union’s lead officer for London buses, John Murphy, said: "In a world where people are increasingly distracted when walking, due to the use of electronic devices, it is essential that there is a clear and obvious sound of a London bus. If people hear the spaceship sound they won’t think ‘bus’ and could place themselves unintentionally in danger.”

Unite is also concerned that drivers have not been widely consulted about the new sound and there are potential concerns about whether they will find it distracting or if it will affect their health.

It has called on TfL to halt the trial and consult again on a more realistic sound.