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New CMU iPhone App Gives Real-Time Info on Port Authority Schedules

Carnegie Mellon University introduced Tiramisu, a real-time bus and light-rail car tracker app, in partnership with the Port Authority Wednesday.

Pittsburgh transit riders standing at a bus stop want to know the answer to only one pressing question, “Where’s my bus?”

Thanks to a new iPhone application, Tiramisu, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, riders with the popular Apple product will have a new tool to help them find out quickly.  

Tiramisu, an Italian word meaning, “pick me up,” is an app that relies primarily on crowdsourcing information from transit riders to determine the location and occupancy level of the Port Authority of Allegheny County buses and light-rail cars in real time.

Mobile apps are easy-to-install computer programs designed to work within the phone's operating system, expanding its function.

“When a rider first activates the app, Tiramisu displays the nearest stops and a list of buses or light-rail vehicles that are scheduled to arrive," said Aaron Steinfeld, senior systems scientist in robotics at CMU. 

The list includes arrival times, based either on historical data for that route or on real-time reports from riders. When the desired vehicle arrives, the user indicates the level of “fullness” and then presses a button, allowing their phone to share an ongoing GPS trace with the Tiramisu server. Once aboard, the rider can use Tiramisu to find out which stop is next and to report problems, positive experiences and suggestions. 

The new app was developed by researchers in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT), supported in part by CMU’s Traffic21 initiative. The free app is available for download at the iTunes AppStore.

"We were looking at trying to improve transit riders' experiences, especially for elderly riders and riders with disabilities," said Anthony Tomasic, senior systems scientist in the Institute for Software Research. 

The information, for example, can let riders who use wheelchairs know if there is space on the bus. 

Feedback can also be sent directly to the Port Authority's customer service department, letting the authority know when a bus stop shelter is damaged by weather, or if there is a broken seat, for example. 

Heather Pharo, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority, which partnered with CMU for the project, said, “We think any additional information our riders get is great for them and us.”

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