People Mover teams up with Google Maps to make bus route planning easier

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system is trying to become more people — and tech — friendly. You can now use Google Maps to figure out your bus route.

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As I unlock my bike from in front of the Downtown Transit Center, I type the name of my next destination into my phone. Instead of showing me bike trails and roads, it tells me which bus to hop on to get back to work – the number 45, scheduled to leave in two minutes.

The Google Maps app displaying bus route information for Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA
The Google Maps app displaying bus route information for Anchorage. Hillman/KSKA

It took me about 15 seconds to plan my bus route. On other days I’ve poured over paper schedules or stared at timetables on bus stop walls. With the new system, I used Google Maps on my smart phone just like if I was looking for driving or biking directions. Mary Burt was waiting for the same bus.

“I think it’s a great idea. Just wish I had a smart phone. ‘Cause I get on the bus and I’m hurrying up looking, what’s the connection I can make at the next stop? How can I coordinate? If I could just download instructions, it could be wonderful.”

Public Transport Director Lance Wilber says that was the idea — to make the bus system more accessible, especially for visitors.

“It’s really like Expedia for buses. Or Orbitz. You make travel arrangements. You find out where you want to come, where you want to go, and the time you want to do it and it just brings it right up on the screen.”

People Mover has been working on the project for two years. They had to convert their bus schedules and routes into a data format that Google could use with their mapping program. Soon the transportation department will make the information available to anyone who wants to use it to design different transport apps. Wilber says they want to link the bus route planner with maps of the trail system as well.

When it’s time to board the bus, I glance at my phone but check my route the old fashioned way, too.

“Morning!” I say to the bus driver as I deposit my coins. “Where do I get off to go to the University?”

He patiently explains.

Settling in, I chat with other riders, like Roy Mcdole, who has used the buses for years. His dad used to be a driver.

“This is the route he drive. My dad was the singing bus driver, back a few years back,” he says proudly.

A People Mover bus. Hillman/KSKA
A People Mover bus. Hillman/KSKA

Mcdole doesn’t have a smart phone. But like many other frequent riders, he doesn’t really need a trip planning map.

“Most of the time, people just know where they’re going.”

Turns out, thanks to Mcdole, the driver, and the map tool, now I do, too.

I pull the yellow cord. Ding! “Stop requested,” announces the automated female voice. Then the bus driver tells me I should wait until the next stop. He can get me even closer.

You can check out the trip planner online here as well.