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Transit riders in Pittsburgh will soon be able to get the answer for the most common question for who waits at a bus stop: Where's the bus? Thanks to Tiramisu, a new pretty straightforward iPhone application developed at Carnegie Mellon University, riders will be able to share arrival times with each other.
By using crowdsourcing to share information, anyone waiting at a bus or T stop with an iPhone can see which buses or light rail vehicles are due to arrive next and, thanks to the signals from riders already aboard, get an idea of how long they have to wait.
Tiramisu — "pick me up" in Italian — makes it easy for riders to use their iPhones to signal the location and occupancy level of the Port Authority of Allegheny County bus they are riding, in real-time.
The new application allows transit riders to create the information they want in collaboration with Port Authority. It is a model for how citizens can help produce the public services and information they desire.
According to the Carnegie Mellon information, 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. 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 information available through Tiramisu is also critical for riders with disabilities, explained Carnegie Mellon sources. The fullness information lets riders who use wheelchairs know if there is space on the bus. Blind riders can use the app through the iPhone screenreader.
"But the beauty of Tiramisu is that it provides information that is valuable not just for people with disabilities, but for every rider. This universal design approach helps everyone," said Aaron Steinfeld, a senior systems scientist in the Robotics Institute with expertise in transportation technologies. "It can even benefit non-riders, such as local shops, because riders will know if they have time to go into a store."
Steinfeld is co-director of RERC-APT, a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Buffalo, State University of New York, focused on the transportation needs of people with disabilities.
"While better funded transit systems, such as those in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, can afford to make GPS-based information available to riders in real-time, the Allegheny County system is under tremendous budget pressure," Steinfeld said. "Under such circumstances, a free, crowdsourced system such as Tiramisu offers an important alternative."
During a field test on the Port Authority system in Pittsburgh's Oakland corridor, the RERC-APT team found that even a small number of riders along a route can provide useful, real-time information about buses. The information becomes richer and more useful as the number of riders using Tiramisu increases. The team also observed that participants in the pilot studies continued to use it even after the formal study ended.
"Tiramisu is an exciting tool that will provide new types of useful information for Port Authority riders," said Port Authority CEO Steve Bland. "Collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University on research aimed at improving public transportation has been an exciting and fruitful experience, which we hope continues for many more years."
The new app is available free through the iTunes AppStore, but the Tiramisu team will have a version for Android smartphones available soon.