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REAL-TIME TRAVELER INFORMATION SYSTEMS SUMMARY Travelers who are informed about weather and driving conditions, delays and detours, and other situations that may affect their travel can use the information to make decisions and increase the mobility, safety, and satisfaction of their trip. From the moment travelers wake up and view the weather conditions outside their window until they complete their trip, they are receiving information that will benefit the many decisions they must make regard- ing mode choice, route choice, destination choice, and departure time. Real-time traveler information systems, operated by either public or private sector service providers, have proven to be effective at informing travelers about the circumstances affecting their trips and empowering travelers to reach informed decisions. A variety of traveler information systems exist, including telephone support phone num- bers, Internet dissemination sites, in-vehicle or handheld devices able to receive notices and alerts, and field devices informing travelers while en route. Operations of these trav- eler information dissemination systems may be performed by either public or private agencies. Given this background, the primary purpose of this synthesis is to gather and report on the state of the practice for real-time traveler information delivery, with an emphasis on the following: · The needs and expectations of travelers · The current status of traveler information systems in the United States · Available and emerging data sources · Business models for sustaining traveler information systems. The study conducted within this synthesis project involved four key data collection processes: · An online survey of agencies currently operating traveler information systems · Observations and testing of existing traveler information systems · A literature review of documented surveys, evaluations, and benefit-cost analyses of traveler information systems · Interviews and discussions with industry experts from public and private agencies. The results and conclusions of this synthesis project were influenced in part by each of the 50 U.S. states because each state operates some form of traveler information system that was able to be observed and studied during the project. During the survey, 34 public sector agencies (of the 51 contacted) completed the survey and shared their views on the topics. The report was not limited to any one form of traveler information delivery, but rather it documented the best practices for various traveler information mechanisms. Cur- rently, travelers have a variety of sources from which they can receive traveler information, including the following:
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2 · Public-operated 511 phone systems are available free of charge to callers; 42 public- operated 511 phone systems in 33 states offer coverage to 128 million Americans (47% of the population). Public 511 phone systems are available to anyone with access to a telephone. · Public-operated traveler information websites are available free of charge to users. Each of the 50 states offers some form of traveler information website. · Field devices such as Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)--visible to drivers through the windshield and dashboard (which can be considered to include the line of sight vis- ible out the front windshield) at no cost to drivers and without any need for devices. Highway advisory radio is another example of a field device that allows travelers to hear reports from standard AM or FM radios. · Private sector traveler information providers offer web, phone, or special devices (e.g., navigation system or handheld devices) primarily in metropolitan areas; some prod- ucts are now expanded to include rural areas. · Private-operated news and media outlets disseminate traffic, weather, and event infor- mation over radio and television broadcasts with the majority of traffic and event infor- mation describing metropolitan areas. Travelers (as consumers) have certain levels of expectations for traveler information. Simply put, they need quick, simple, safe access to accurate, timely, reliable, route-specific information. The agencies providing traveler information face challenges of their own in attempting to meet the needs of travelers while operating within limited budgets and with available resources. This project identified the following three key challenges that traveler information providers face: · Challenge 1: The use of some aspects of the traveler information that is being delivered is limited. · Challenge 2: A gap exists between what is possible in the state of the art in data col- lection, information generation, and delivery and what occurs in today's state of practice. · Challenge 3: Both public and private traveler information providers face funding and budget challenges. As a result of this synthesis, six suggestions are presented (in no specific order) to the traveler information industry: The first suggestion is that more formal discussions occur between experts in informa- tion accessibility and the traveler information system operators and developers to increase awareness and understanding of best practices and approaches. The results of this projects' survey showed that many public agencies either have been successful at making their trav- eler information systems accessible to all travelers, including those with disabilities, or are working diligently to do so. However, based on feedback and input, it appears that most agencies are unclear about the steps to achieve an accessible system and also have received little feedback from the traveling public. The second suggestion is that a nationwide effort be considered to achieve consistency in the use of icons on traveler information system websites. The results of this projects' obser- vations and surveys showed that there is little consistency in the use of icons and nomencla- ture of event descriptions among traveler information websites. The third suggestion is that the performance measures for 511 phone systems be reconsid- ered to include consideration of the information content delivered per call, the information missing per call, and the travelers' reactions based on the 511 call. Traditionally, call volume statistics have been a major performance measure used to assess the success of 511 phone
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3 systems. However, the study suggests that volume of use tells only a small portion about the success and value of the system. The fourth suggestion is that more detailed and focused user feedback surveys be con- ducted to understand the true reactions of travelers. Feedback suggests there are three related and somewhat conflicting issues regarding 511 phone system feedback: · Feedback from transportation professionals who have tested 511 phone systems typi- cally cite many frustrations with the systems and describe both the need for improve- ments and the technical ability to accomplish such improvements. · Contradicting the negative feedback from transportation professionals, the feedback obtained from surveys of 511 users expresses satisfaction with 511 systems and often describes how useful and beneficial the systems are. · With very few exceptions, the usage statistics for 511 do not reinforce the positive feedback expressed by surveyed users; instead, usage spikes at certain times during major events and is very low at other times, suggesting that the value of the system varies greatly depending on the situations facing travelers. The fifth suggestion is that public agencies consider VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technologies to reduce "per minute" phone costs, and that the 511 industry research the feasibility of centralizing (either regionally or nationally) portions of the call-handling processes (while leaving content development and call dialogs to continue to be locally controlled). Such an approach might better meet the peaks in demand, while reducing overall operations costs. The sixth suggestion is to research the apparent "gap" between the availability and use of weather information. Although a great deal of weather information is offered by traveler information systems, the weather reports often are general and do not represent the highly detailed and accurate capabilities of the weather forecasting industries.