The inbound 44 Knoxville bus was due at Penn Station Downtown at 11:09 a.m. on Friday. But when that time came, the bus was still blocks away, waiting at a traffic light on Wood Street.
A rider waiting at the station, armed with a paper schedule, would have had no way of knowing when the bus would actually arrive.
That is about to change.
The Port Authority this summer will begin rolling out technology that will allow riders to track the actual locations of buses and projected arrival times, using smartphones or any other devices with Internet access.
Similar technology is in place in several cities, and riders here have been clamoring for it. "This is probably one of the most common requests of Port Authority, and it has been for a long time," spokesman Jim Ritchie said. "We're really excited to be able to get this project underway."
The technology will be pilot-tested on the P1 East Busway-All Stops and P2 East Busway Short routes this summer. Implementation across nearly the entire bus fleet will be done in stages next year. By the end of 2014, the authority expects riders to be able to track all buses except for a few older ones, said Scott Vetere, director of service planning and evaluation.
The authority will begin testing similar technology for the Light Rail Transit system next year, but is not sure when it will be widely available to riders.
Pittsburgh will use the same technology that is already in place on the Chicago Transit Authority system. Visitors to the CTA website can select a route, direction of travel and their stop from a menu and get the projected arrival times for the next several buses, based on the vehicles' actual current locations.
They can also open a map that depicts the current locations of buses, using miniature bus icons superimposed on the street grid.
The system uses global positioning system technology. GPS units on the buses transmit their location.
Mr. Vetere on Friday watched about a dozen Port Authority buses on his office computer as they made their way up and down the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway and through Downtown. The bus locations are updated every 30 seconds.
The arrival information is accurate to within a minute about 95 percent of the time, he said.
Eventually, high-level platform stations on the rail lines and heavily used bus stops and stations will have digital displays showing when the next trains or buses are due. And when the system is fully implemented, riders will be able to get arrival information via text message, Mr. Vetere said.
Chicago began testing its system in 2006 and fully implemented it for buses by 2009 and rail lines in 2011. "It has been extremely popular among our customers and it has won awards for innovation," spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.
For years, Port Authority customers who asked about real-time arrival information were told that the agency could not afford the technology. But the proposed capital budget for the coming fiscal year allocates $3.5 million for real-time bus tracking and nearly $5 million for the rail system.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who took office last year, made it a top priority, as part of an overall push to revitalize what he called "the same old ossified Port Authority."
He said while serving on county council, he heard often, especially from young people, that they couldn't understand why real-time information wasn't available.
"They get everything off their smartphones and would ask why they couldn't get this," he said.
"We have a younger and highly technological society moving into the Pittsburgh region. When they talk about their priorities, transit is near the top of the list," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
"We have got to make it better and more customer-friendly. Real-time information is a critical piece of that."