511 number to provide nationwide traffic info
In July, the Federal Communications Commission assigned a nationwide three-digit telephone number to provide traveler information. Within days of the announcement, the U.S. Department of Transportation introduced a $5 million grant program to help state and local jurisdictions convert their seven- and 10-digit traveler information telephone numbers to the new 511 number.
The nationwide telephone number for traveler information will give all travelers one easy-to-remember number for local, real-time traffic information or help when they need it. When callers dial the 511 number, they will be connected to the area's travel information provider, which can offer automated information on congestion and hazardous conditions, approximate travel times and transit schedules. Depending on the providers' capabilities, callers may be able to immediately connect to roadside assistance or emergency service.
State and local public agencies can begin converting the approximately 300 existing seven- and 10-digit numbers to the national 511 number. To help defray the costs of conversion, the U.S. DOT has offered grant awards of $50,000, which can be used for system design; conversion support, including software and hardware modifications; and system and acceptance testing. Grant applications must explain arrangements for regional coordination and the services' technical details and include a financial plan. Also, applications must include provisions for a 20 percent match from non-federal sources, and the matching funds may not be used to support continued operations, maintenance or management of the systems.
Data collected from Cincinnati and northern Kentucky helped demonstrate to the FCC that a nationwide three-digit number for traveler information would be useful. In 1995, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) began providing regional travel information to callers who dialed 333-3333. Later that year, callers in northern Kentucky began to access the same information by dialing 311.
During a three-month period in 1996, the ODOT and KYTC monitored call volumes to both numbers. They found that Kentucky residents made nearly 73 percent more calls per capita to 311 to get travel information than did Ohio residents, who had to dial a seven-digit number.
The nationwide number for traveler information is one of only eight three-digit numbers available for use across the country. Two of them, 411 and 911, are used virtually nationwide for directory assistance and emergency services respectively. After five years, the FCC will evaluate the status of 511, and it will reassign the number for other services if sufficient progress toward widespread use has not been made.
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation Web site at www.dot.gov or the ITS America Web site at www.itsa.org.