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46 CHAPTER seven CONCLUSIONS Summary Of Challenges In the weather industry, detailed weather forecasting and reporting is possible through public and private Based on the findings of this synthesis project, the traveler service providers. However, many traveler informa- information delivery industry faces three key challenges: tion systems disseminate information based on no-fee regional or county-based weather reports. In some First, the traveler information that is being delivered ways, the availability of no-cost weather sources has receives limited use. When it is considered that the Internet is prevented the use of more detailed services. still a relatively new tool (with widespread use beginning less Through an online observation of traveler informa- than 15 years ago), it is remarkable that traveler information tion websites and 511 phone systems, it was observed is available in every state (with more than half of the public that typically road construction and maintenance event agencies surveyed in this project operating a second genera- reports are generic, with such phrases as "Intermittent tion or later version of their website). Similarly, with the des- lane closures from June through August." Although ignation of the 511 phone number happening in 2000, that 511 the daily construction and maintenance activities are traveler information systems are available to 47% of travelers known by the crews and supervisors in the field, infor- is another noteworthy accomplishment. However-- mation describing daily updates rarely reaches travel- ers through information dissemination systems. Although the 511 phone system is available to 47% of the population, the statistics estimate that travelers call The third challenge is that both public and private traveler 511 during 4 of every 10,000 trips made in the United information providers face funding and budget challenges. States. Telephone calls to 511 information systems during Information delivery traditionally has been seen as a winter seasons increase drastically compared with "free" service and therefore the only business models calls during the summer seasons, and call volumes in which end users are paying for services are in lim- spike during inclement weather. This demonstrates ited areas with the most critical conditions. that travelers are receiving information during inclem- Public sector agencies face unique challenges with ent weather, but also demonstrates that many systems restrictions on the use of funds only for deployment or are underutilized (and perhaps not needed) for large construction, and often encounter a lack of budget for portions of the year. operations. Although more than 100 million 511 calls have been made to date, more than 30% of these calls were placed in either the San Francisco Bay area or the state of Florida. Suggestions For Future Research The results of one survey presented in this synthesis describes how the majority of travelers surveyed in Based on the results of this synthesis, several suggestions are Montana called 511 fewer than three times in 6 months, presented to individual agencies and the traveler information whereas in a Nielsen survey, 77% of Americans indi- industry in general. cated they watch local television news broadcasts either daily or several times a week and 54% said they Accessibility of Traveler Information listen to radio news broadcasts daily or several times per week. Currently, most travelers do not use 511 as a The results of this projects' survey showed that many public daily activity, except in rare locations. agencies either have been successful at making their sys- tems accessible or are working diligently to do so. However, The second challenge is that a gap exists between what is based on feedback and input, it appears that some agencies possible in the state of the art in data collection, information are unclear about the steps required to achieve an accessible generation, and delivery, and what occurs in today's state of system and also have received little feedback from the travel- practice. ing public.

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47 These findings suggest that more formal discussions Feedback from transportation professionals who have occur between experts in information accessibility and the tested 511 phone systems typically cite many frustra- traveler information system operators and developers to tions with the systems and detail both the need for increase awareness and understanding of best practices and improvements and the technical ability to accomplish approaches. such improvements. Contradicting the negative feedback, feedback obtained Display Consistencies from surveys of 511 users indicates satisfaction with 511 systems and often describes how useful and ben- The results of this projects' study and surveys show that there eficial the systems are. is little consistency in the use of icons and nomenclature of With few exceptions, the use statistics for 511 do not event descriptions among traveler information websites. The reinforce the positive feedback expressed by surveyed 511 Deployment Coalition is actively pursuing consistency users. For example, nationwide, it is estimated that on and interoperability among 511 phone systems; however, a average travelers who live where 511 is available call coordinated effort was not found related to traveler informa- 511 for roughly 4 in every 10,000 trips performed. (This tion websites. estimate is based on an assumption of 110 million house- holds, and 511 availability to 47% of those households-- These findings suggest that a nationwide effort be con- approximately 50 million households. An estimate of sidered to achieve consistency in the use of icons on trav- five trips per household per day is used to estimate 91.25 eler information websites, beginning with consideration of billion trips per year performed by travelers with access the static signs designated in the Manual on Uniform Traffic to 511. Using the last 12 months of call statistics, roughly Control Devices as a starting point on which to base website 30 million 511 calls were placed per year.) That 511 is standards. called infrequently when compared with the number of trips may reflect the role 511 phone systems play (i.e., Performance Measures and the Role of 511 travelers only need 511 at specific times and 511 is not a service travelers expect to call for their regular trips). Traditionally, call volume statistics have been a major per- formance measure used to assess the success of 511 phone User surveys in California suggest that greater than 80% systems. For the following reasons, however, research sug- of callers to a traveler information phone system call because gests that volume of use tells only a small portion about the they suspect they might encounter a closure or major delay success and value of the system: (as opposed to routinely calling about their route). Roughly 50% of the times, these callers are correct and they receive Even during periods of large call volumes, the infor- a report of a closure or a delay. Furthermore, seven out of mation delivered may be inaccurate, ineffective, and ten of these callers alter either their route or their departure unavailable, or the users may not react based on the times. This suggests that the value of 511 phone systems information. is in responding accurately when adverse conditions exist The role that 511 plays in the industry may be a special- (including weather, construction, disasters, and crashes). ized role in which information is requested and received at times when television, radio, or Internet information The findings of this report suggest that more detailed and is not available. This role that 511 plays may contribute focused user feedback surveys be conducted to understand as much toward improving safety and mobility as other the true reactions of travelers, and that 511 and other infor- (more widely used) dissemination mediums do, but it mation dissemination systems be evaluated against their may not post the annual statistics of other systems. objectives and customer or marketplace focus. For example, detailed focus groups with travelers who have used 511 phone These findings suggest that the performance measures systems could discover their true reactions and answer the for 511 phone calls be reconsidered to include consideration question of why call volumes are not higher. The findings of the information content delivered per call, the informa- also suggest that call volumes should be compared against tion missing per call, and the travelers' reactions (or changes the conditions or situations travelers are facing and there- in action) based on the 511 call. Industry consideration and fore compared against a perceived need for 511. For example, definition of the role of 511 in the larger traveler information very low call volumes on a snowy busy day may reflect poor industry picture should reflect accurate expectations. customer support for the service; however, very low call vol- umes on a typical sunny summer day are probably normal. Correlations Among System Use, User Satisfaction, and Industry Feedback Ongoing Costs and Business Models Survey feedback suggests the following three related and Experiences to date suggest that the majority of public sector somewhat conflicting issues related to 511 phone systems: traveler information systems are not going to benefit enough

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48 from private revenues to support ongoing operations. The busi- current state of the art in weather monitoring and forecast- ness model most agencies have adopted as a result is to operate ing is able to describe detailed and route-specific, current, systems with the lowest ongoing operations costs as possible. and forecasted conditions. However, there are many loca- Although the operations budget for traveler information web- tions in which general weather reports are presented, often sites vary little according to use, typically 511 phone systems using free weather content in lieu of executing in-house or carry an ongoing cost per use and represent a technology area outsourced weather forecasting products. As a result, a con- (phone hosting) that involves rapid technology turnover. siderable amount of weather data and information is avail- able that is not presented to travelers. These findings suggest that public agencies should consider Voice over Internet Protocol technologies to reduce "per min- This gap between the availability and use of weather ute" phone costs, and that the 511 industry research the feasi- information should be researched at a national level to help bility of centralizing (either regionally or nationally) portions state departments of transportation confirm whether they of the call-handling processes (while leaving content devel- wish to continue using existing "no cost" weather sources or opment and call dialogs to continue to be locally controlled). if the benefits justify a transition to the use of more sophisti- Such an approach might better meet the peaks in demand. cated weather information. The Gap Between Weather Information Availability and Delivery Nationally, a great deal of weather information is offered on traveler information websites and 511 phone systems. The