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8 CHAPTER THREE TRAVELER INFORMATION--NEEDS AND EXPECTATIONS OF TRAVELERS Understanding the needs of users is a critical initial step in tion so that they may save time, improve safety, avoid traffic building a successful traveler information system. This chap- congestion, and reduce stress. From May 11 through June 8, ter presents the topic of traveler information user needs and 1999, a banner on the Wisconsin DOT traffic website invited expectations. A synthesis of a literature review, an online users to respond to an online survey to help improve the survey, and agency interviews conducted as part of this proj- website. A total of 608 users completed the questionnaire. ect are combined in this chapter. When inclement weather or unplanned incidents or conges- The agencies operating traveler information systems sur- tion occur, virtually every traveler (regardless of their mode or veyed as part of this project were asked how they determined length of trip) benefits from traveler information. The definition their user needs as they developed their traveler informa- of travelers' needs for information is closely tied to the travelers' tion systems. The results of this question are summarized use of the information. Most often, travelers use pre-trip and en in Figure 1. route information for one or more of the following uses: FIGURE 1 Agency feedback on how user needs were assessed. Traveler Information Needs · Time management--for example, changing a depar- ture time to avoid or accommodate delays or inclement weather A large number of formal and informal studies have assessed · Trip modifications--changing the route of travel, the travelers' needs for pre-trip and en route traveler informa- destination, or the mode of travel based on conditions tion over the past 15 years. Travelers need quick, simple, safe or situations access to accurate, timely, reliable, route-specific informa-
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9 · Reduction in stress--a well-documented use of trav- In summary, commuters' traveler information needs are eler information is to understand the cause of a delay summarized as follows: or the upcoming road conditions and an estimate of the impact to reduce driver stress. · Route-specific information describing the current travel time or speed of travel In addition to this summary of the needs of travelers, the · Information about specific circumstances affecting literature review of needs assessments and user benefit stud- travel (e.g., incidents, closures, major congestion) ies identified three distinct classifications of users with spe- · Current alerts of transit delays or service interruptions cific traveler information needs, summarized as follows: Interregional Travelers · Employed commuters performing local commute trips · Interregional travelers through both rural and urban Interregional travelers often travel from one metropolitan areas region to another. They may pass through rural or subur- · Rural drivers (commercial or recreational) ban areas; however, their needs are not as extreme as those encountered by travelers in remote rural areas. Interregional Employed Commuters Performing Local Trips travelers may need to understand travel conditions in both the originating region and the destination region. Many times, Typically, employed commuters access traffic reports (Inter- these regions may be located in separate states and therefore net, television, or radio) before departing in the morning. may require travelers to access multiple travel information Certain circumstances such as incidents, unusual congestion, systems operated by different agencies. or reported delays of transit vehicles may cause commuters to adjust their departure time, change their route, or change Continuity of Traveler Information modes. Each commuter is unique in the elasticity of their travel-time restrictions. Some commuters have fixed work Travelers who pass from one metropolitan area into another shift start times and are heavily penalized if they are late by do not recognize jurisdictional borders. To the traveler, he even a few minutes, whereas other commuters have more or she is experiencing one trip and prefers continuous and flexibility in their arrival patterns. However, even commut- consistent travel information. One challenge to continuity ers with flexible start times have some days where critical in traveler information delivery is connectivity. If a traveler meetings, airport departures, or other events mandate strict needs to access two separate phone systems or two indepen- adherence to a schedule. Therefore, commuters need traveler dent traveler information websites, this increases the effort information systems to provide them with the information and time required to obtain the useful information. Many 511 required to make these decisions, either pre-trip or en route. phone systems avoid this problem by offering call-forward- Commuters are typically knowledgeable about their routes ing capabilities on phone systems to link callers directly to and available alternates. the 511 phone system in an adjacent state or agency. Traveler information websites often allow users to click on an arrow The Wisconsin DOT conducted a survey of commuters' or graphic that enables them to connect to the traveler infor- use of travel information. The survey results identified the mation system operated by the adjoining state or agency. following five uses (listed in prioritized order): One example of a more sophisticated and user-friendly · To assess traffic congestion on their routes example of connectivity between jurisdictions is an auto- · To judge the effects of incidents on trips mated exchange of event and incident data between agen- · To decide among alternate routes cies. This allows one traveler information system to offer · To estimate their trip duration information to travelers that describe the conditions reported · To time their trip departures by adjoining agencies. As an example, the North Dakota and Minnesota 511 phone systems and supporting databases are Commuters who use transit (either regularly or occasion- linked together so that callers dialing 511 from within North ally) have a different set of needs for traveler information. Dakota can request information for I-94 and receive reports Real-time transit information is needed to understand delays of incidents and events throughout Minnesota and North in transit routes that might require commuters to select an Dakota. This enables a traveler who is about to embark on alternate route and therefore change their departure time. In a trip through North Dakota and Minnesota--and who may addition, real-time departure information can aid flexibility be familiar with the North Dakota 511 phone system menu and inform riders of their need to leave work at a certain options--to make one phone call and receive a report for time or to stay at the office if routes are running late. Finally, their entire trip. commuters need access to information about exceptions to transit service (e.g., bus stop closures owing to roadwork or In 2007, the eight state DOT agencies from Washington transit schedule changes). State to Wisconsin (commonly referred to as the North/