Mobile apps help students answer, ‘Where’s the bus?’

Tiramisu uses crowdsourcing to tell riders if there are any remaining seats.

College students waiting patiently for the campus bus or shuttle can find out exactly when their ride will arrive, if it’s packed to the brim, and—for disabled students—whether or not the vehicle has room for a wheelchair: All it takes is a few taps of their smart phone.

Students and faculty members on many campuses use smart phone applications designed for any transit system, while others have apps specifically for their campus.

Carnegie Mellon University is among the schools creating the smart phone add-ons that keep a close virtual eye on the nearest bus.

Created by developers on the prestigious campus, a free app called Tiramisu will show students and other commuters where the nearest bus or light rail vehicle is. An estimated arrival time is listed on the application, based only partly on the route’s “historical data,” according to a Carnegie announcement.

The app differs from other bus-route applications because it uses a crowdsourcing approach, using real-time reports entered by riders as the vehicle moves from stop to stop.

When the rider boards the bus, she can tap a button on her iPhone and indicate how full the vehicle is, and allowing the smart phone to share a GPS signal with the Tiramisu server.

Knowing how much room is available for a wheelchair will prove valuable to students with disabilities, but being able to track bus locations will appeal to anyone who frequents public transit, said Aaron Steinfeld, a senior systems scientist in the university’s Robotics Institute whose expertise is in transportation technologies.

“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 Steinfeld, adding that the app could also become a favorite of local store owners. “It can even benefit non-riders, such as local shops, because riders will know if they have time to go into a store.”