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511 is a new traveler information service that will provide traffic, transit and commuter service information by phone and online 24/7.

511: All the Info You Need, All in One Place
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 01/2010

A new traveler information service will provide traffic, transit and commuter service information 24/7. Use it. Love it. Help make it better.

Want to check traffic conditions for your commute home? Need information on Metrolink or bus schedules? Want to participate in a carpool? There was a time when you had to consult multiple sources to get answers to these questions, but that’s about to change. A new system, called 511, will soon provide all of this information with a simple phone call or click of a mouse.

511 is a free traveler information service that provides traffic, transit and commuter service information in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties by means of a toll-free number – 511 – or online at www.Go511.com. The service is available 24/7.

The 511 system was created when the U.S. Department of Transportation petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1999 for a three-digit number – like 911 – to provide travel information. The FCC assigned 511 to the transportation community in July 2000. The agency left all implementation issues and the deployment timeline to state and local agencies and telecommunications carriers.

511 information service providers vary widely. Sometimes state transportation departments run the system, sometimes regional transportation or transit agencies do, and sometimes a coalition of agencies provides the service.

In Southern California, 511 is a partnership of Caltrans (Districts 7, 8 and 12), the Los Angeles County Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (LA SAFE), the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC), and the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

Caltrans’ role is to provide real-time traffic data generated by the Transportation Management Center (TMC). For example, if you’ll be driving home on the San Diego Freeway (I-405), 511 can tell you the average speeds in mainline and high-occupancy vehicle lanes near a ramp that you specify. It can also give you average travel times and warn you about any incidents that have impacted traffic, allowing you to make informed decisions about what route you’ll take.

“511 is free, easy to access, and available to everyone,” said Senior Transportation Engineer Allen Chen, who has played a key role in integrating data from the TMC into the 511 system. “It allows motorists to be proactive in planning their travel. They’re not at the mercy of traffic reports.”

By Phone or Online

The 511 phone service was designed to be intuitive and easy to use. It’s voice-activated, which means motorists can use it safely while driving. When you call, you can say “Traffic,” “Public Transit,” or “Commuter Services.” To get information faster, you can be more specific. For example, you might say, “traffic on the 101,” or “Metrolink,” or “vanpool.” 511 will either give you the information you’re looking for or connect you to someone – yes, a live person – who can help.

The 511 website, www.Go511.com, uses simple menus to provide all of the information available by phone. It also has an interactive travel map, a trip planner, and information about bicycling, taxis, airports and more.

“One of the great things about this system is that the data is continually updated,” said Chen. “You can be your own traffic reporter. You get the most recent information available customized for your route.”

How You Can Help

511 will be rolled out to the general public in late spring. Currently, it’s in the beta launch phase, meaning the system is operational, but it’s still being tested and perfected. You can help with that. Staff of the 511 partner agencies are encouraged to try 511 and provide comments on functionality, content and design – what works, what doesn’t work, and suggestions for improvement.

There are three ways you can provide feedback. You can call the 511 test phone number at (877) 427-8733 and follow the prompts. When you’re done, say “feedback,” and leave a message about your experience using 511. You can also email comments to Anne Karna at karnaa@metro.net or to Mauro Arteaga at arteagam@metro.net. Finally, visit www.Go511.com and click on “Feedback” at the bottom of any page.

You have to travel. Let 511 help. And don’t forget to share your thoughts about the system. Your feedback can help make getting around Southern California easier for everyone.

The 511 phone service is voice-activated, which means motorists can use it safely while driving. The 511 website, www.Go511.com, has an interactive travel map, among many other helpful features. The 511 website allows you to view messages on changeable message signs in real time. Click on the Feedback link at the bottom of any page to share your thoughts on the system.