Oakland, Pa., Tests 'Personal Transit Dashboard' Service

TransitScreen is a service that provides real-time information on a variety of transit services in Oakland, including buses, ride-hailing services, car-sharing, and Pittsburgh’s bike-sharing program.

by Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / April 11, 2017

(TNS) -- For Ryan Bourque, development manager at the SkyVue Apartments on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, this is a regular scene as he works in the lobby: Residents who have called Uber for a ride gather in the lobby, track their ride on a screen behind a welcoming desk in the lobby and head outside when their ride is nearby.

They are using TransitScreen, a service that provides real-time information on a variety of transit services in Oakland, including buses operated by the Port Authority, University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, car-sharing service Zipcar and Pittsburgh’s bike-sharing program.

The service is free to the user and normally is paid for by a large employer or an apartment building operator. But in this case, the screens are a demonstration project funded for a year by the provost’s office at the University of Pittsburgh; screens also were installed last month at the university’s Sennott Square and three medical facilities: UPMC Montefiore, UPMC Presbyterian and Falk Clinic.

“I’m really glad we decided to be part of this,” Mr. Bourque said. “It’s a service to our residents. I’ve done my own little test while I’m sitting here and I look up at the screen and see something is coming and I look outside and then it passes by, so it seems pretty accurate.”

The university is sponsoring the program as part of its Smart Living Program with the Oakland Business Improvement District so two computer professors in the School of Arts and Sciences, Alexandros Labrinidis and Kostas Pelechrinis, can test whether the program can be used to increase traffic at businesses near transit stops.

The transit information also is available on mobile devices through the website pittsmartliving.org.

Mr. Labrinidis said they are testing whether commuters who know almost exactly when their transit will arrive would be willing to patronize nearby businesses while they wait, especially if they have an incentive such as a coupon.

“We’re extremely excited,” Mr. Labrinidis said. “The big advantage of this is you don’t have to go to four different apps to find the information. It’s all available either on the screen or on your mobile device.”

The business community is interested in the possibility of TransitScreen increasing business, said Jonathan Winkler, spokesman for the Oakland business group.

“Without a doubt, this really helps people get from point A to point B efficiently,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible and we are happy to have it here.”

Co-founder Ryan Croft said the system was developed in the Alexandria, Va., area two years ago after CEO Matt Caywood grew frustrated having to go to several apps to evaluate transit options. The system has more than 1,000 terminals in operation in about a dozen cities across North America.

“I think what we’re excited about in Pittsburgh is they’re going to study how it’s working and try to learn from it,” Mr. Croft said.

The company especially likes the visibility that comes from having screens in city halls across the country and is talking to Pittsburgh about installing one in the City-County Building. Karina Ricks, the city’s director of mobility and infrastructure, would heartily support that idea, said Timothy McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto.

TransitScreen’s ultimate goal is to have commuters use transportation options other than their own cars to reduce pollution and traffic congestion, Mr. Croft said. The company wants commuters to consider TransitScreen “their personal transit dashboard,” he added.

Right now, TransitScreen can distribute more real-time information about Port Authority service than the agency itself, said spokesman Adam Brandolph, using information provided by Port Authority. The agency has one screen at the Wood Street station, Downtown, for bus service now and expects to add T service information this summer.

Other screens may be available Downtown this summer, but the agency doesn’t have its own mobile app yet, he said.

“That’s a great idea and we’re all for people getting information about public transportation in whatever form they can get it,” Mr. Brandolph said. “As long as they are providing accurate information, we’re all for it.”

The demonstration project has money to fund five more screen locations and would like to expand to the Downtown area, Mr. Labrinidis said.

©2017 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.