P1120132, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wyliepoon’s photostream

You’re standing at a bus stop. Every couple of minutes you peer down the street. Then you glance at your watch. Then you look down the street again. Why? Because you and everyone else at the stop only want to know one thing: When’s the bus coming? Now, in Pittsburgh, there’s an app for that. Carnegie Mellon University has developed an iPhone app that provides real time information on Port Authority of Allegheny County bus and “T” arrivals. It’s called Tiramisu — which in Italian literally means “pick me up.” Tiramisu allows riders to use crowdsourcing not only to let fellow public transit users know exactly where a bus is, but also how full it is and more. From Carnegie Mellon News:

When a rider first activates the app, Tiramisu displays the nearest stops and a list of buses or light rail vehicles that are scheduled to arrive. The list includes arrival times, based either on historical data for that route or on real-time reports from riders. When the desired vehicle arrives, the user indicates the level of “fullness” and then presses a button, allowing their phone to share an ongoing GPS trace with the Tiramisu server. Once aboard, the rider can use Tiramisu to find out which stop is next and to report problems, positive experiences and suggestions.

Tiramisu screenshots

Tiramisu was developed by researchers in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT) and supported in part by CMU’s Traffic21 initiative. RERC-APT is a collaboration between CMU and the University of Buffalo which focused on the transportation needs of people with disabilities. It’s critical, for example, for riders who use wheelchairs to know if a bus is crowded or if there’s ample room for their needs. Of course, most people would love to know more real time information about their bus, so the idea has been expanded for all riders.

Tiramisu is available free through the iTunes AppStore. It’s currently compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and it requires iOS 4.0 or later. The developers promise that it will also soon be available for Android smartphones as well. While it was still being tested, it was found that even a small number of riders on a route could provide useful information and that participants in the pilot studies continued to use it even after the formal study ended. That said, the more people who use the app, the better and more useful this tool will become. Therefore, you’ll get the most out of this free app by letting all of your friends and coworkers know about it too.

Tiramisu is part of a larger trend for cities to work with game developers to use smartphone apps and games to improve communities. An article from American City & County describes how New Yorkers were able to use The Commons game iPhone app to report problems and submit suggestions to improve city services. And, in Macon, GA, officials worked with developers to create Macon Money which rewarded participating residents with currency to spend at local businesses in order to spur local economic development and to help tear down social divisions.

New hybrid electric bus, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from HerrVebah’s photostream