Welcome Back: Never miss the bus again with PAT live tracking

By Brad Hanlon / Staff Writer

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By the end of this year, wasting time waiting for a late bus may be extinct in Pittsburgh.

Through new government funding, Port Authority — Allegheny County’s public transit provider — has announced its intention to install new live-tracking GPS systems into its bus fleet in the near future, allowing riders to access an instant stream of bus locations and arrival times. 

Heather Pharo, spokeswoman for Port Authority (PAT), said that with new funding through Act 89, a bill that passed through the state legislature last November, PAT will integrate a new live-tracking system into its buses in the upcoming months. The integration process began earlier this year and Pharo said she hopes riders will be able to better utilize the buses and travel more efficiently. 

Google Maps users can currently access bus routes for all Port Authority buses, but the times listed are based on the Port Authority schedules, not live tracking. Travelers using Google Maps would not be able to discern if a bus is running late. 

“People have been asking for [the tracking system] for a long time,” Pharo said.

Pharo said Port Authority is “pleased to bring this to Pittsburgh and believes it will be very helpful [to riders].” PAT has also opened the tracking technology to app developers. According to Pharo, PAT hopes that through integration with smartphone apps, the technology can reach more commuters.

The new technology is being installed into the bus fleet in waves in order to test the system, Pharo said, but PAT plans to have all buses integrated with live tracking by the end of 2014. So far, the P3, 8, 48 and 86 bus lines have already been renovated and are currently trackable online.

The company installing the system, Clever Devices, has proven itself successful with other major public transit systems, Pharo said. Clever Devices has installed similar systems in bus fleets across the country, including Chicago and Miami. 

The new live tracking system isn’t all that PAT plans to unveil this fall, Pharo said. The company also plans to adjust bus frequency, change bus stop signs and perform other “tweaks to make key routes less crowded” in the near future.

Jade Williams, a junior exercise science major, said she doesn’t believe the new system and tweaks will significantly affect how much PAT buses are used. Williams frequently uses the bus system to get to her job in the North Shore, but said she doesn’t mind the commute. 

Since her routes are popular, Williams said she doesn’t struggle to catch buses to work on time. Williams said the tracking would be of assistance “for more remote stops.” 

The live-tracked routes are available on PAT’s website and the technology is also branching out to smartphone apps. Pharo said that rather than creating the app themselves, or commissioning a developer, PAT has left the live-tracking app open to all developers on any platform. By allowing multiple private developers to apply and create apps with the system, PAT hopes that more apps will be developed for various devices and operating systems, allowing more riders to use their phones to access live-tracking, according to Pharo.

Senior Mia Wavrek said she uses Google Maps on her phone to attempt to predict bus arrivals. Wavrek, an ecology and evolution major, commutes to campus and has used PAT buses for years to get around the city. 

“I’m always skeptical at first, but if the app was reliable and designed well, I’d definitely be satisfied,” Wavrek said.

As more routes are gradually integrated, Port Authority also plans to advertise the system and spread awareness of the live tracking to riders, including incoming Pitt students, Pharo said. 

With more popular routes becoming easier to track, Pitt students may find it simpler and more convenient to utilize their free bus passes, Wavrek said. 

“For off-campus students, I think there would be a lot of positive feedback,” Wavrek said. “Pitt students are really lucky to have at least four years of free transportation included in our tuition, and we should take advantage of it.”

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