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1 SUMMARY Transit, Call Centers, and 511: A Guide for Decision Makers This report presents the results of TCRP Project A-31. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has designated 511 as the national telephone traveler information num- ber. Individual 511 systems are implemented and operated by state and local agencies. Intended to provide multimodal traveler information, 511 systems include information on highways and transit systems. Currently, there are 42 operating 511 systems in the United States. Most of these systems cover an entire state. Only a few 511 systems include live operators; the rest are entirely automated. Many 511 systems include both telephone and Internet websites. This study focuses only on 511 telephone systems. This project was intended to primarily address concerns expressed by some transit agen- cies that participation in a 511 system could result in significant increases in call volumes to their call centers, thereby degrading service quality to their customers or necessitating invest- ments in staffing and/or technology to maintain service quality. This project investigated national experience with transit content and information on 511 telephone information systems. This study featured the following major research activities: · An examination of transit agencies' overall customer information strategies and the role of call centers in those strategies, · A comparison of transit call center technologies and techniques with those utilized in non-transit call centers, · Twenty-nine case studies of transit agency experiences with 511 telephone systems, · Interviews with twelve 511 system administrators to investigate their experiences with transit on 511, and · A focus group with transit riders to investigate their perceptions of automated telephone information in general and 511 in particular. This report synthesizes the results of these investigations to provide a comprehensive pic- ture of the state of the practice. Further, it presents conclusions and recommendations that will assist both transit agencies and 511 system administrators in making decisions about transit content on 511. This summary presents major study conclusions organized into two sections: the first focuses on the national experience with transit on 511, and the second focuses on transit call center strategies. Following these conclusions, study recommendations are presented, including 511 decision-making guidance and recommendations pertaining to transit call center strategies in general.
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2 Major Conclusions Two major categories of conclusions are presented, the first involves transit agencies and 511 and the second relates to the overall utilization of advanced tools and techniques within transit call centers. The conclusions related to transit and 511 are based on 29 transit agency case studies, interviews with 511 system administrators, and a transit customer focus group. The conclusions related to call center technology are based on interviews with transit and non-transit call center operators, as well as a literature review. Experience with Transit on 511 Although there is national guidance on 511 system operations, decisions about specific 511 systems are at the sole discretion of the state, regional, or local agencies that admin- ister these systems. Hardly any of the 42 operational 511 systems include all of the tran- sit information recommended in the national guidance--just over half of them include no transit content or features whatsoever. The reasons why there is no widespread, exten- sive transit involvement in 511 vary, but this is not because of any adverse impact on tran- sit call centers. No transit agencies report any significant increase in call volumes or any other ill effects of 511 participation. Rather, this lack of transit involvement is simply because most 511 system administrators and transit agencies do not see significant advantages in providing transit information via 511. There are several reasons for this per- spective, as follow: 1. Throughout most of the United States (with several large urban areas being the notable exceptions), the decisions made by 511 administrators and transit agencies suggest that they believe that for any given trip, the vast majority of travelers want either traffic or tran- sit information, but not both. Therefore, there is very limited value in providing both types of information together. Further, their decisions suggest that the agencies believe that most transit trips are served by a single transit provider and therefore there is little value in having information available for multiple transit providers on 511. 2. The 511 decisions regarding transit information suggest that many agencies believe that most transit information requests will require speaking with a knowledgeable transit call taker and are therefore unlikely to be adequately addressed by a 511 system. Transit focus group participants, while expressing a general willingness to use automated systems, emphasized that the ability to speak to a live operator is critical. For those transit informa- tion requests that can be addressed in an automated fashion, it is usually easier and, given the other considerations, considered to be just as effective to invest in that automation at the transit call center. 3. Most transit agency customer service numbers are well established and transit agencies and some transit customers believe they are at least as visible (few 511 systems are effec- tively marketed to transit users) and usually just as easy to remember (e.g., 555-RIDE) as 511. Therefore, the prevailing thinking is that anyone looking for transit information is just as likely, if not more likely, to obtain it most efficiently by calling an individual tran- sit agency directly. 4. Most decisions about transit participation on well-established 511 systems were made several years ago when an existing, highway-oriented telephone information system was rebranded as 511 or, even further back, when the original, pre-511 phone system was cre- ated. In a number of cases, the staff that was involved in the transit decision making--at the 511 system administrator agency and/or the transit agencies--have left and current staff are not always certain of the rationale for the current strategy. If transit participa-
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3 tion decisions were to be revisited now in light of the proliferation of 211 and 311 systems, increased availability of real-time transit information suitable for 511, and other factors, transit participation strategies might be adjusted. 5. A final factor explaining the lack of widespread transit participation in 511 telephone sys- tems is that a number of transit agencies and 511 system administrators have found that transit information needs are better addressed through 511 websites. The web-based user interface seems particularly well suited to providing detailed schedule and route infor- mation and trip planning functionality. In the cases where transit agencies have participated in 511, it is hardly ever because they or the 511 system administrator view 511 as a key component in an overall transit informa- tion strategy. Rather, it is usually because the agencies are trying to support the concept of 511 as multimodal (even though they do not feel that many travelers want multimodal infor- mation) and costs to provide basic transit presence, such as a call transfer to transit customer service, are usually not prohibitive (and hardly ever borne by the transit agency). To a lesser extent, decisions to include transit also reflect the view that 511 may reach some visitors and new residents who might have a harder time finding transit agency phone numbers than 511. In very few cases--the San Francisco Bay Area being the most notable--the decision to include transit on 511 was based on the belief that a large number of travelers need multi- modal information on a regular basis and will view the ability to access that information through one phone call as a significant convenience. Transit Call Center Strategies Staffed telephone customer service is a foundational, critical component of a transit agency's customer information strategy. Customer inquiries that are not easily addressed using other media such as printed materials and websites can be effectively handled by phone. Inquiries like planning complex itineraries are cited by transit customers as among their most important information needs. Most transit agencies believe that the majority of their customers prefer and expect live operator customer service. Agencies also perceive that live operator service is particularly important to senior and disabled customers who are not comfortable using the Internet and customers who are not familiar with the transit system. Although many transit agencies are taking increasing advantage of web pages--and, to a lesser extent, interactive voice response (IVR) systems--these tools are viewed by the agencies as complementing, rather than replacing, live operator customer service. Transit agencies value their telephone interactions with customers as an important means of establishing and main- taining their relationships with their customers. Both transit and non-transit call center strategies vary significantly depending on the size of the organization and its call volume. Large organizations that handle many calls use more sophisticated technologies, performance monitoring methods, etc. For example, non-transit organizations are more likely than most transit agencies to use IVR and the Internet to reduce the number and duration of live operator-assisted phone calls. Many transit agen- cies with significant call volumes could benefit from greater utilization of technologies and practices used more routinely by non-transit organizations. Recommendations Recommendations are offered in two areas: the first concerns 511 decision-making guid- ance for transit agencies and 511 system administrators, and the second pertains to transit call center strategies in general.
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4 511 Decision-Making Guidance Although this guidance is intended to support decision making associated with new 511 systems, since most of the United States is now covered by 511, 511 system administrators and transit agencies associated with even the most mature 511 systems are strongly encour- aged to use these guidelines to reconsider their 511-transit strategies. Overall, it is recommended that most transit agencies work with their 511 system admin- istrator to provide the basic information recommended in the national 511 Deployment Coalition guidance, including a list of services offered, hours of operation, service disrup- tions, and a call transfer option to transit call centers. Although in most circumstances such participation is not likely to produce significant benefits, it is fairly inexpensive to imple- ment and maintain. In such cases, the primary value of participation is three-fold (1) it sup- ports and advances the general principles of interagency, multimodal coordination, (2) it will be of value to those relatively few travelers in most regions who value consolidated traf- fic, transit, and multi-agency transit information, and (3) it will be a convenience for new residents or visitors who may find 511 easier than the phone numbers for individual transit customer service centers. In those relatively few cases where a transit agency is expected to pay a significant amount to support 511 participation, these real but limited benefits should be weighed carefully against the costs. Table S-1 summarizes specific decision-making fac- tors for basic 511 transit content. The question of whether it is useful and cost-effective to provide additional or advanced transit information and features on 511 will depend on a wide range of site-specific factors. Those factors are summarized in Table S-2. As shown in Figure S-1, overall, relatively few agencies will find a compelling case for advanced information, but most will benefit from providing basic transit information on 511. Providing advanced information via 511 can be a resource-intensive process, both in the short term and long term. In addition to having a supportive 511 system administrator and sufficient resources at the 511 agency and transit agency, there needs to be a persuasive reason for providing advanced transit information on Table S-1. Decision factors related to basic transit information on 511. Decision Factor Implication If the 511 system administrator views the system as a Local 511 embraces highway/traffic-only resource, it is likely that a transit agency will national 511 vision of a not have any opportunity to participate in 511. If transit does multimodal resource participate, they are not likely to derive any significant benefit. Transit agency required If the transit agency is required to contribute significantly toward to contribute to 511 the cost of the 511 system, the benefits to transit often will be less system costs than the costs. Cost of call transfers If resources for 511 are extremely limited, the cost of call transfers from 511 to transit from 511 may outweigh the relatively minor benefits of 511 agencies participation that many transit agencies will realize. In those cases, the transit agency phone number can be listed on 511 rather than providing a call transfer capability. Commitments to keep The relatively minor benefit (e.g., a resource for those service disruption proportionally few travelers who may find their way to a given information accurate and 511 system looking for transit information) of this information is up to date lost if the information is not accurate and current. If the schedule and fare information is very detailed and therefore likely to change often, the effort necessary to keep it accurate and Level of detail of current will often outweigh the value of having it on 511. It is schedule and fare assumed that the 511 Deployment Coalition's guidance to include information schedule and fare information refers to high-level schedule and fare information, which is almost always worth listing on 511.
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5 Table S-2. Decision factors related to providing additional transit information on 511. Decision Factor Implication 511 System Factors Technical and financial Limitations of the 511 system in regard to the number of callers, capability of the 511 complexity of the menu system, and ability to effectively interface system to support with transit databases may preclude advanced transit information advanced transit and features on 511. Funding limitations may prevent upgrades to content/features the 511 system to support these features and/or the 511 system administrator may not have the staff resources needed to carry out the on-going activities associated with these more advanced transit features. Ability and commitment The value of transit information on 511 is a function of the number to market 511 to transit of transit information seekers who use 511. If a 511 system is not users historically viewed and used as a transit information resource, the absence of an on-going marketing campaign targeted to transit users means that the value of having advanced transit information on 511 usually will not warrant the cost. Transit Agency Factors Technical and other Just as the 511 system administrator may lack the necessary resources necessary to resources, so might the transit agency. Unless a 511 system keep information administrator is willing to take sole responsibility for obtaining accurate and current on information updates from the transit agency (and most 511 administrators will be unable or unwilling to do so indefinitely), the absence of transit agency resources will preclude advanced information on 511. Ability and commitment In order for the investment in advanced transit information on 511 to to market 511 to transit be worthwhile, either the 511 system administrator or the transit users agency must be willing and able to commit to a long-term marketing strategy to establish and maintain 511 as a multimodal resource. Transit agency has, or If a transit agency has, or is planning to implement, their own IVR, intends to implement, its in most cases there is little benefit in making the same information own IVR and features also available directly on the 511 system. The exceptions to this include regions where 511 is effectively marketed to support multimodal planning and many travelers make mode- choice decisions frequently. If the transit agency does not have their own IVR but wants one, then the 511 system may provide an opportunity to fill that need either as a stop-gap until the transit agency can implement their own IVR, or as a long-term strategy that eliminates the need for a transit agency IVR. The suitability of 511 as a long-term replacement for a transit agency IVR will depend on effective marketing of 511 to transit users and the feasibility of maintaining accurate and up-to-date information on the 511 system. Number of customer If very few transit customer inquiries can be addressed with an IVR inquiries that could be system, the cost to provide such information on 511 probably is not handled all or in part via justified. If many inquiries could be so addressed, the decision will IVR depend on other factors noted in this table (e.g., marketing, ability to keep information accurate, etc.). Current cost of long- In some cases, transit agencies pay a considerable amount for local distance charges for long-distance calls to their customer service center (e.g., from within customer service calls their service area but from a different area code). In these cases, if calls to 511 are toll free (and they almost always are) and the 511 system administrator pays for call transfers out of 511 to the transit agency, having transit information on 511 can reduce local long- distance costs for transit. Ability to effectively If a transit agency lacks an IVR and is struggling to keep up with process current and incoming demand on their customer service line, providing anticipated transit extensive information on 511 can help a transit agency meet customer service call customer needs. Whether it makes more sense to meet those needs volumes via 511 versus upgrades to their own call center will depend on the other factors as noted in this table. 511 system user interface The value of advanced transit content and features on 511 depend significantly on the ability of transit users to conveniently and reliably access that information. Impediments such as a poorly performing 511 voice recognition system or inconvenient placement of transit information in the 511 menu structure would argue against a significant investment in advanced transit information on 511. These impediments will pose a particular challenge to cell phone users and seniors. (continued on next page)
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6 Table S-2. (Continued). Decision Factor Implication Travel Environment Factors Number of transit trips Other considerations aside, it is much more valuable to have transit that involve multiple information on 511 when there are multiple transit providers in a transit providers region. Further, it is more valuable when many transit trips involve multiple providers because 511 callers can get information on all providers with a single call. When there is only one transit provider in a given travel market, the "one-stop shop" rationale for transit information on 511 does not apply. Number of travelers The value of advanced transit information on 511 is significantly making mode choice enhanced when many travelers make mode-choice decisions based decisions on a frequent on daily traffic conditions. Under those conditions, having traffic basis (daily, weekly) and transit information available in one call to the 511 system represents a significant convenience and could greatly facilitate consideration of transit in mode-choice decisions. Number of tourists or In most regions, the transit customer service phone number is at newcomers least as familiar and accessible to long-term residents seeking transit information as is 511. Under those conditions--and other factors aside--it is hard to argue that the cost to provide telephone-based transit information anywhere other than through the transit agency is cost effective. However, in regions where there are many tourists and/or many new residents--especially if they come from regions where 511 includes transit--there is greater justification. Whether that justification outweighs the costs will depend on other factors. Almost All Number of Transit Agencies Basic Additional Information Information (minimum recommended by 511 Deployment Coalition) Few Real-time Arrival / Interactive Trip Route-level Schedule Service Disruptions General Schedule Call Transfer Transit Phone # Departure info. & Fare Info. Planner & Fare Info. Type of Transit Information on 511 Figure S-1. General recommendations for transit agency 511 information.
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7 511. The most compelling reasons pertain to the nature of the travel environment, namely the presence of conditions that make consolidated ("one call does all") traffic and transit and multimodal transit information valuable to travelers. Those conditions include signif- icant and variable traffic congestion and a wide range of viable modal travel options. When such conditions are present, it will also be very important to promote 511 aggressively to establish awareness of it as a multimodal resource. Another compelling rationale for advanced transit content and features on 511 is in the case where one or more transit agencies feel that many of their customers would benefit from automated information (no operator available) but they do not have the funds to implement their own system. In such cases, advanced transit information on 511 can serve as either a short- or long-term solution. Transit Call Center Strategies Two recommendations are provided in regard to overall transit call center strategies. First, transit agencies of varying sizes are encouraged to evaluate the potential benefits of more extensive utilization of advanced call center technologies and practices. This could include medium-sized agencies implementing IVR systems or large agencies enhancing the sophisti- cation of their IVR systems to serve a wide range of customer inquiries. Other examples of technologies that may benefit larger agencies include call-volume demand forecasting, as well as performance monitoring and customer satisfaction monitoring software. Potential bene- fits that may be realized through greater utilization of advanced technologies and techniques at transit agencies include the following: · Reducing the amount of manual, paper-based processes at large call centers by using workforce management technologies that track daily work logs and automate most tasks; · Reducing the amount of time spent on repetitive information requests by implementing IVR systems and posting such information on the agency website; · Ensuring customer service quality for agencies with large call volumes (e.g., more than 1,000 calls per day) by implementing quality monitoring technologies; and · Improving customer management, particularly at those agencies that wish to provide per- sonalized information (such as service alerts) through the use of customer relationship management and customer interaction management software. The second recommendation is to encourage transit agencies to consider 511, 311 (consol- idated municipal services information), and 211 (consolidated social service agency informa- tion) together, as part of their overall customer service strategy. In particular, 311 systems can have a significant impact on transit agency customer service operations including, as occurred in the City of San Francisco, having the 311 call center replace the transit agency call center. Transit agencies that are entities of a municipal government are encouraged to engage with the municipality early in any 311-related discussions so that transit agency considerations are appropriately taken into account and that any changes can be phased in over time.