The Port Authority is preparing to debut a new way for riders to find out when the next bus or rail vehicle is coming.
Called "interactive voice response," it allows phone callers to speak a stop or route name and hear an automated voice -- quite possibly a close relative of the iPhone's Siri -- deliver the schedule information.
The service provides scheduled times, not real-time information, which is the actual arrival time based on the current location of a bus, but the authority hopes eventually to make that available, spokeswoman Heather Pharo said.
"Putting something like this in place doesn't mean we don't recognize the very real demand for real-time information," she said.
The authority is seeking volunteers to participate in a brief pilot test before the system is made available to the public. Those interested can sign up on the agency's website, www.portauthority.org.
The authority hopes the new service, which will be available around the clock, will help riders during off-hours when customer relations lines are not staffed with humans, and that it will free up those employees to handle more complex matters while they are on duty.
Callers who use the automated system will bypass anyone who is waiting to speak to service representatives. The system gives users the choice of speaking their commands or using the phone keypad.
After being prompted to ask for "next bus information," callers are asked to supply a route number or stop location, typically an intersection or a station on the Light Rail Transit system. Once the system has learned the desired route and location, and direction of travel, it delivers the next three scheduled arrival times.
It also offers to provide times later in the day or on another day.
The service eventually will allow riders to check the balance on their transit smart cards, called ConnectCards.
The system is being provided under an $805,000 contract with LogicTree, a Denver-based company. The three-year contract envisions other possible innovations including development of a system providing real-time travel information.