Port Authority is rolling out a new way for riders to find out if their bus is below, at or above capacity before it arrives. It’s called Room2Ride.

You can find out, for example, that the 28X Airport Flyer has an average of five riders at 6:37 a.m. at the Liberty Avenue and Wood Street stop — well under the social distancing capacity of 25 riders for a 60-foot bus.

Essentially, it’s a tool for riders that allows them to plan trips with social distancing in mind,” says Adam Brandolph, public relations manager for Port Authority of Allegheny County. “It shows two weeks of historical data of how many people have been on your bus. If you look up your bus route and the stop you use, and the time point closest to your stop, you can see if the bus is below capacity limits or above.

“If it’s above, you have more information at your fingertips — if your trip is flexible you can choose an earlier or later trip.”

The feature can be found at Room2Ride.

Right now, all buses have strict capacity limits to allow for adequate social distancing. No more than 10 riders can be on a 35-foot bus at once. No more than 15 can be on a 40-foot bus. No more than 25 can ride on a 60-foot articulated bus or light rail vehicle at one time.

“Obviously, it allows people to distance themselves,” says Brandolph. “A bus or any vehicle is a closed compartment. There is little room for social distancing. We wanted to make as much room as possible and still have public transit.”

The Room2Ride tool measures the average amount of passengers on a route by automated passenger counters, which use lasers to detect new riders. That’s how they know how many people are riding each bus. With that data, the Room2Ride platform is updated weekly.

“It’s a fantastic tool for us for planning,” says Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman. “It teaches us a lot about what’s going on at 7,000 bus stops when it’s hard to see them all the time.”

It’s part of a host of adaptations that Port Authority has made during the pandemic. Plexiglas shields have been put up between drivers and fare boxes, and everyone aboard is required to wear a mask. Every vehicle will be sanitized every night, which will require the hiring of 50-60 new workers.

Bus ridership is down 65 percent from a year ago.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.