Pittsburgh Port Authority bus tracker keeps electronic schedule

Port Authority adding real-time data for another of its routes this week

The P1 East Busway-All Stops bus pulled to Smithfield Street and Sixth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh at 1:04 p.m. Tuesday, about when the Port Authority said it would.

Not based on the printed schedule, mind you -- based on that, it was six minutes late.

But on the P1, the printed schedule is passe. The authority's experimental real-time bus tracker accurately forecast the tardy arrival 20 minutes beforehand, giving anyone with a smartphone or computer a leg up on those still fumbling with paper timetables.

The authority this week will begin expanding the number of routes whose riders will be able to track the actual locations of vehicles and anticipated arrival times.

Having tested the system on the P1 for several months, the authority will add another East Busway route this week and three to five routes after schedule changes that take effect June 15, spokesman Jim Ritchie said.

"The plan after that is to do a cluster of routes every two to three weeks and monitor for problems as we go through," he said. All bus routes are expected to be on the system by the end of the year, and Light Rail Transit service will be added in 2015.

The system allows riders to visit a website with their computers or mobile devices and display a map showing the locations of buses, updated about every 30 seconds. They can also view projected arrival times at the various stops.

The authority will encourage and cooperate with developers who want to create apps that navigate the system, Mr. Ritchie said.

Riders have long clamored for real-time tracking, which is available on transit systems in several other cities. Traffic congestion, crashes and bad weather often cause buses to deviate from published schedules.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette analysis of six months of data collected by the transit agency showed that more than 30 percent of buses ran five or more minutes late or arrived two or more minutes early.

The real-time tracker is the first wave of new technology coming to the 50-year-old transit agency. It will include alerts via email, text messages and Twitter; and voice announcements and display screens at stops and stations to give rail and bus riders specific, real-time information about service problems. The enhancements will be phased in over the next few years.

When all of it is in place, the authority will be able to tell riders not only where the bus and rail vehicles are, but what's holding them up, such as a crash or vehicle breakdown.

Riders will be able to subscribe to alerts specific to the routes they travel.

The service changes that take effect June 15 will be on seven bus routes and the light-rail system. The bus changes are mostly minor time and routing adjustments and affect 7 Spring Garden, 8 Perrysville, 38 Green Tree, 61D Murray, 68 Braddock Hills, P68 Braddock Hills Flyer and Y1 Large Flyer. Details can be found at portauthority.org.

On the rail system, Blue Line-Library will have more weekend and major holiday trips, operating every 30 minutes for most of the time.

Blue Line-South Hills Village will once again operate on weekends and major holidays, every 30 minutes for most of the day.

Red Line service will not operate south of Overbrook Junction on weekends and major holidays, except for early morning and late-night trips, but service frequency will be increased to every 15 minutes for much of the day on weekends and major holidays.

On weekdays, a Red Line trip leaving Downtown at 1:14 a.m. will be added.

With additional weekend and holiday service on the Red and Blue lines, the authority will eliminate Subway Local trips that were used to supplement regular service during major events.

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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