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52 MDT also noted some technical issues with system naviga- system, is operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Com- tion. Specifically, users who select certain items through the mission (MTC), the MPO for the region. Consistent with the 511 telephone system cannot return to the main menu. transit roots of the system, the Bay Area 511 system is one of only a few 511 systems where the first option listed on the Outlook. The outlook for maintaining transit informa- main menu is for transit or public transportation, rather than tion on the South Florida 511 system is uncertain. FDOT for a highway or traffic-oriented option. indicated that it would stop hosting the servers at the end Given the vitality of public transportation in the region, as of the vendor contract in November 2008. Palm Tran well as the transit emphasis on 511 and its precursor informa- already announced its decision to pull out of the system, and tion system, it is not surprising that some of the most extensive BCT is considering doing the same. That would leave MDT transit agency participation in any 511 system has occurred and SFRTA/Tri-Rail as the two active participants in the in the San Francisco Bay region. The system is unique both in system. terms of the large number of transit agencies that are included MDT acknowledges several important benefits from par- on the menu system (approximately 43 transit agencies and ticipating in the 511 system. First, the 511 system introduced 20 paratransit agencies), and also because it is one of only a regional transit itinerary planning throughout South Florida few 511 systems that include real-time transit vehicle arrival via the system's website. Second, the system can provide infor- time estimates (currently, only for San Francisco Municipal mation to customers around the clock, even when customer Railway, but the system is being expanded). agents are not available. Third and finally, it enabled MDT to The Bay Area 511 telephone information system includes upgrade its IVR system and to provide web-based itinerary the following top-level menu options: planning. Despite these benefits, however, MDT has not made a commitment to participating in 511 after the current con- · Traffic, tract has run out. · Public transportation, From the start, MDT considered participation in 511 as an · TransLink (the new regional fare system), extension of its services, not a replacement. Consequently, in · Rideshare, the absence of continued funding or support for the regional · Bicycling, transit 511 system, MDT plans to maintain its own IVR sys- · Transfer to FastTrack (electronic toll collection system for tem, now part of the county's 311 services. In addition, like bridges), and its fellow South Florida agencies, MDT is exploring the po- · Transfer to Sacramento 511. tential for a free application like Google Transit to replace the online trip planner, at least on an interim basis. Several options are available under each menu item. For example, under traffic, both general traffic conditions and 22.214.171.124 San Francisco Bay Area 511 driving times are available for specific roadways. The sub- menu under the public transportation option includes the The San Francisco region's 511 system serves the entire following choices: nine-county Bay Area. The system is distinguished in two im- portant respects. First, it is among the earliest 511 systems. · Transit agencies (say the name or select from a list to get Second, it is one of the richest 511 systems in terms of transit access to each individual agency's submenu), participation. Having 5 years of 511 operating experience-- · TransLink, in addition to many years of experience within the systems · Commuter incentives, that came before this 511 system--and having been among · Airports, the most ambitious systems in regard to transit agency par- · Paratransit, and ticipation and transit content, there is much of interest in the · All Nighter Service (a regional all-night bus service that Bay Area 511 experience. serves BART stations after BART stops running at midnight). One of the unique aspects of the Bay Area 511 system is that it is one of the very few 511 systems that did not originate Transit-related floodgate messages may be input at sev- as a state DOT-operated, conventional (i.e., 10-digit), traffic/ eral different places in the 511 menu structure, including the highway-only telephone information system. Prior to moving main menu level, public transportation menu level, and indi- to the three-digit 511 number, the Bay Area system operated for vidual transit agency menu level. several years as a regional, multi-agency, transit information- centric telephone information system called TravInfo. Unlike Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit). nearly all other 511 systems--most of which are operated by AC Transit is the third-largest public bus system in Califor- state DOTs--the Bay Area 511 system, as well as its precursor nia, serving 13 cities and adjacent unincorporated areas in
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53 Alameda and Contra Costa counties--the East Bay area of decision to participate was that they wished to remain a good the greater San Francisco region. Approximately 1.5 million regional partner with MTC and wanted to support MTC's people live in AC Transit's 364 sq-mi service area. AC Transit 511 efforts. Secondary and less significant motivations were provides regular fixed-route, paratransit, and school services as follows: using a variety of bus vehicle types for a total of 682 vehicles. Annual regular fixed-route service (excluding paratransit) · Especially for newcomers to the region, 511 could serve as ridership for 2005 to 2006 was estimated at 67 million. (50) an easy-to-remember number. AC Transit makes a wide range of information available via · Any calls that may be diverted to 511 and away from the AC the Bay Area 511 telephone system. The agency's submenu on Transit customer service operators would ease the work the Bay Area 511 system includes an opening floodgate pre- load for AC Transit call takers. Although cited as a pos- recorded message (e.g., a voice recording of any general ser- sible benefit, and therefore part of the 511 participation vice disruption or other announcements), after which the decision, AC Transit was quick to note that they never following options are available: envisioned any significant shifting of calls to 511, believing that most transit information calls require interaction with · Cash fares (prerecorded information); a live operator. · Pre-paid passes (prerecorded information); · Lost and found (a transfer to an AC Transit call taker); The only potential adverse impact AC Transit reports con- · Damaged passes (a transfer to voicemail); sidering in their 511 participation decision was the possibility · Customer relations (for complaints, commendations, and that their callers might feel inconvenienced by being routed suggestions, which results in a transfer to an AC Transit through 511, only to find that they still had to transfer to call taker); and speak with an AC Transit CSR. The possibility for inconven- · Information (for schedule and trip planning, which results ience was attributed mostly to the 511 voice recognition sys- in a transfer to an AC Transit call taker). tem, which AC Transit perceived as operating poorly during the early days of 511 system operation. For options that consist of a call transfer to AC Transit, before completing the transfer, the 511 system first states Impacts. Overall, AC Transit reports that they have ex- the hours of operation for the AC Transit customer service perienced no significant impacts as a result of participation in telephone line. 511. They have not been asked to contribute anything to the The prerecorded information for AC Transit is maintained cost to deploy and operate the 511 system itself. MTC has by MTC, the 511 system operator, although AC Transit is re- taken full responsibility (funding of the Bay Area system is sponsible for ensuring that their 511 information is current discussed further in the MTC case study later in this section). and correct. For updates, AC Transit notifies MTC via phone, Neither has 511 participation necessitated any changes in call fax, or e-mail, of the information they want updated. MTC center operations, either for staffing or technology. then uses professional voice talent to record the updates. AC During the first 6 months of 511 operation, AC Transit re- Transit reports that they generally do not provide service ceived a number of complaints from their customers about disruption information to 511. They have few service disrup- the 511 menu system and voice recognition performance, but tions that are broad enough (i.e., impacting more than a single those complaints have fallen off dramatically as the 511 sys- bus) to warrant dissemination on 511, and have no quick tem was refined and callers became familiar with the system. and easy way to add service disruption messages to 511 them- During the early period when callers were struggling with the selves (they would have to relay the message to the 511 system 511 menu, AC Transit requested that "AC Transit" be allowed administrator). as a caller input at the very top of the 511 menu. MTC denied the request, saying that the large number of transit agencies Rationale for participation. Transit agency participa- makes it impossible to list each as a top-level menu option. tion in the Bay Area 511 system was orchestrated by the sys- (Public transportation is a top-level menu option and, after tem developer and operator, MTC. MTC staff attempted to making this selection, a caller can request a specific transit contact each transit agency in the region to invite them to agency by name.) participate. When they could not reach an agency, they left a AC Transit has made one major change, however, to lever- message indicating that the agency would be added to the 511 age the value of their participation in 511. They converted menu and that basic service information and a call transfer to their customer service marketing (brochures, website, etc.) the agency's customer service department would be included. to identify 511 as the single telephone information number AC Transit reports that it was not a difficult decision for for their agency. The only remaining references to their them to participate in 511. The key factor motivating their prior, seven-digit customer service number are on their bus
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54 station signs, and there are plans to replace those with signs · Particularly in a region with many transit agencies (like the only showing 511. In this way, even though they believe that Bay Area) it can be very difficult for a single 511 system to many callers to 511 will ultimately transfer to speak with an satisfy the needs and preferences of all transit agencies (that AC Transit operator, AC Transit has truly embraced 511 as is, they believe that using 511 as a substitute for individual their telephone information portal. Factors underlying that transit agencies' IVRs holds greater promise in smaller re- decision include 511 being an easy number to remember gions with fewer transit agencies to satisfy). and the possibility that some calls--even if only a very small percentage--may be handled by 511 and therefore save a Issues. Overall, from AC Transit's perspective few signif- call to AC Transit customer service operators (all incoming icant issues or problems were encountered with 511. Those customer service calls are ultimately handled by live oper- that were encountered, such as early concerns about the ators). AC Transit has a call direction system, but not a full complexity of the 511 menu system and voice recognition IVR system. performance, have largely been resolved. Although not noted by AC Transit, another possible moti- Outlook. Overall, AC Transit has viewed their participa- vation for their embrace of 511 could be cost savings. When tion in 511 as a positive experience and intends to continue routed through 511, the cost to transfer non-local callers to actively participate indefinitely. They encourage other (which includes many callers from nearby areas, such as transit agencies throughout the country to consider involve- Berkeley, that are in a different area code than AC Transit) to ment in their respective 511 systems. Overarching comments AC Transit is borne by the 511 sponsor. Otherwise, AC Tran- on their 511 experience and the benefit of 511 include the sit would incur that cost (most agencies ensure that all calls to following: their customer service center are toll free). Lending some sup- port to this notion is the fact that some other Bay Area agen- · "511 is an opportunity. The three-digit number is easy and cies interviewed indicated that this was a key motivation for straightforward and, if implemented correctly, it is another AC Transit when participating in the pre-511 regional tele- way to reach your customers." phone information system. · "If nothing else, agencies should consider doing 511 in AC Transit reports that they do not perceive any increase addition to their own customer information number." or decrease in calls to their customer service line, either be- · "511 makes it easier for the first time rider, or really anyone, fore or after the regional phone systems' conversion to 511, to get through to transit." or after they began marketing 511 as their primary number. · "511 just gives customers another option--which is great!" This is a subjective assessment since AC Transit does not have access to any 511-related statistics (i.e., number/percentage of AC Transit expressed interest in the following 511-related AC Transit menu selections, call transfers from 511 to AC plans and desires: Transit, etc.). Prior to 511, AC Transit seemingly had no plans for their · Converting all of their roadside signs to show 511 as the own IVR system, and they still have no such plans. Therefore, customer service phone number rather than the current when asked whether they viewed 511 systems as possible sub- seven-digit number. stitutes for individual transit agency IVRs, their response cen- · Investigating the concept of a regional, consolidated, tered on 511 systems and transit agencies in general, rather "after-hours-only" staffed transit call center. (This may than their particular circumstance. They indicated that they or may not relate directly to the 511 system.) Such a sys- view some potentially significant obstacles to using 511 as a tem would serve calls during times when individual tran- substitute for agency-specific IVRs, noting the following: sit agency customer service lines are closed. The concept, which is being spearheaded by MTC, is in the very early · Individual transit agencies may not feel they adequately stages of consideration. control a regional 511 system (e.g., can make decisions · Ultimately including estimated bus arrival time informa- about menu structures, etc., to satisfy their customers' tion on the 511 telephone information system. They are particular preferences); currently in discussions with MTC, which is leading the · The regional 511 sponsor may not sufficiently view the tran- effort to expand transit arrival times on 511. Currently, AC sit agencies as their customers or end users; Transit is doing an arrival times demonstration on several · A regional or statewide 511 system may be subject to the routes, but the information is not made available via 511. "whims and needs" of regional or statewide agencies, and · Having access to 511-related statistics (e.g., call transfers therefore may not be something an individual transit agency from 511 to AC Transit), which they intend to request can count on in the long term; and from MTC.
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55 San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). Generally, BART wishes to maintain their own immediate BART operates heavy rail, subway service in the San Fran- contact with customers and they feel that they have the re- cisco Bay Area. Their system consists of a fleet of approxi- sources to provide high-quality service themselves, including mately 600 cars operated on 5 major lines over 104 miles of comprehensive and accurate information on all BART service track, much of it in subways, tunnels, or the 3.6-mi Transbay as well as information on other services with which BART Tube that runs under the San Francisco Bay and connects the connects. BART feels that they have the ability to provide East Bay with San Francisco. BART service is provided in the more information effectively to their customers than can the four counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and 511 system. Although emphasizing that it is not a driving fac- San Mateo. The BART system includes 43 stations. (51) tor in BART's decisions about 511 involvement, they also BART participates in the Bay Area 511 system, although not note some concerns about the quality of the 511 voice recog- in an intensive manner in terms of information content. The nition system. Finally, BART acknowledged that part of their only user option under the BART portion of the menu is to preference for using their own customer telephone informa- be transferred to the BART customer service line. As with all tion system is because they have used the same phone num- of the transit agency call transfers out of 511, before complet- ber for many years, and it is well known by their customers. ing the transfer to BART, the 511 system informs callers of Although they do not see 511 as a major component of the hours of operation of the BART customer service center. their customer information strategy, BART does feel that 511 BART's own customer service line features an auto-attendant provides them with two important benefits greeting that provides callers with several options. Once an option is selected, callers are transferred to a live operator. · It provides an easy-to-remember number for people who BART is developing their own IVR system which is expected do not know the BART customer service number, and to be operational late in 2007. BART's IVR will be driven by a · The meetings and interactions associated with 511 help web database. Eventually, the system will access the BART real- BART stay in touch with what other agencies are doing. time information system that is currently used to provide real- time arrival information on BART platforms. The BART IVR In terms of BART's motivation to invest in developing is also planned to include station-to-station schedules and their own IVR as opposed to putting automated, IVR-type in- information on fares. formation on the regional 511 system, the primary motiva- The only information that BART provides routinely to the tions seem to be that (1) BART feels they have the resources 511 system is changes in the hours of operation of the BART to provide a very high-quality IVR service to their customers, customer service information line. BART is aware of, and developed to address BART's specific needs and preferences, seems to value, their ability to provide service disruption or and (2) since the regional 511 system includes only pre- other floodgate messages to the MTC for inclusion on 511. recorded, voicemail-type messages and (with the exception of MTC reports that BART periodically provides faxes that con- estimated arrival times) is not driven by an underlying infor- tain updates to the information provided on 511. The regional mation database, BART does not view the 511 system as a 511 operations staff contacts BART (as well as several other true, robust IVR. agencies) on a set daily schedule (twice during each morning and evening rush hour in the case of BART) to solicit infor- Impacts. BART reports that neither their 511 participa- mation for posting on 511. tion nor the 511 system overall have impacted them in any significant way. BART has not been asked to directly con- Rationale for participation. As with all of the Bay Area tribute to financing either the implementation or operation transit agencies, BART was recruited to participate in the re- of the 511 system. The only cost impact has been in the form gional 511 system by the regional 511 sponsor, MTC. BART's of BART staff time. They report that in the early days of 511 decision to participate in 511 was motivated by a desire to be development, one or two of their staff members spent "a lot a good regional partner and to support MTC's efforts with of time" attending meetings. 511. Overall, BART does not generally view 511 as playing a BART has observed no change in the volume of calls com- significant role in their customer information strategy. They ing to their call center. However, this is based on a subjective feel that almost every caller ultimately wants and needs to assessment, since they do not have access to MTC's 511 call speak with a live operator and therefore they see very limited statistics. When informed that such statistics were available, value to putting more information on 511 (e.g., schedules, BART indicated mild interest--they were somewhat curious fares, etc.--such as provided for AC Transit on 511). They but mostly felt that if there was anything significant, they also felt that routing callers through 511 who would eventu- would have observed the impact in the call center. They also ally want to speak to a BART operator could inconvenience noted that they get all of the key statistics they need regarding their customers. their own call center from their own system.
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56 BART has not changed how they market customer service-- who do not know the BART number, and 511-related meet- all of their marketing continues to emphasize their own tele- ings help them stay in touch with others in the region. Their phone number. They indicated that they do not see a strong advice to other agencies considering 511 is to at least investi- argument in their marketing 511 when it does not provide gate 511 and to compare the 511 option to what they could much value to their customers (who would have to transfer accomplish themselves. BART feels that, at a minimum, it is from 511 to BART to get any information). They indicated important that a transit agency "have a seat at the table" on that they have received no feedback from their customers 511 deliberations. regarding 511. The only significant change planned for their own cus- The research team asked BART whether they had consid- tomer information telephone system is that BART intends ered the potential cost savings made possible by the fact that to provide real-time estimates of vehicle arrival times. BART when a local long distance call (one from within the region has provided real-time information on their station plat- but from a different area code than BART) comes to BART via forms for many years. A limited demonstration is now being 511, the 511 system pays for the call rather than having BART conducted on their website, and once the feature has been pay for the call. They said that they had considered the same expanded on the website, they will focus on dissemination issue when the 511-precursor regional transit information via phone. BART has made no plans for providing this in- line (TravInfo) was developed and they decided that the cost formation via 511 (they noted that they perceive 511 discus- savings were not compelling. They did note that AC Transit sions of arrival times to be centered on buses and therefore opted to run all of their calls through TravInfo for this very not relevant to them). reason and that they saved a lot of money. San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni). Muni provides Issues. Overall, BART has not had any significant issues transit service within the city and county of San Francisco 24 h or problems with the regional 511 system. Rather, they sim- per day, 7 days per week. With over 800 total vehicles includ- ply find its value to them to be fairly limited and, although ing historic streetcars, modern light rail vehicles, diesel buses, wanting to provide general support to the concept, they have alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches, and their not heavily utilized 511. As noted, they have some concerns world-famous cable cars, Muni's fleet is among the most di- about 511, such as voice recognition performance (at least verse in the world. Muni is a part of the San Francisco city early on), limited value as an IVR, etc. Their decisions regard- government. Together with the Department of Parking and ing 511, however, have been driven primarily by their belief that with their extensive knowledge and adequate resources, Traffic, Muni is part of the San Francisco Municipal Trans- they are best suited to serving the information needs of their portation Agency. Muni is one of America's oldest public customers. transit agencies, the largest in the Bay Area, and the seventh Before the site visit interview with BART, the research team largest system in the United States. It currently carries more was under the impression that BART might have had some than 200 million riders annually. (52) concerns with 511 potentially diverting calls from their cus- Muni's situation relative to customer service telephone tomer information center, and the impact of that call reduc- information is unique among the agencies studied in this tion on their customer service staffing. BART indicated that project, in so much as the City of San Francisco recently im- this was not a concern of theirs with 511, but in relating their plemented a citywide, live operator (there is no IVR), 311 experiences with a different project, they did note that they, telephone information system. The FCC has designated 311 as at one point, did have this concern. In that case, the concern a national number for non-emergency police, fire, and munic- was that reductions in call volumes would translate to a reduc- ipal business. Administration of 311 systems is the responsi- tion in hours of operation for their call center (noting that bility of local and municipal governments. below a certain staffing level it becomes very difficult to pro- The San Francisco 311 center began operations in February vide extended service). Although this did not end up being a 2007 and, at that time, assumed all customer service call cen- "BART-Bay Area 511" issue, the fact that BART has consid- ter functions for Muni, as it did for many municipal agencies. ered such impacts in other contexts suggests that this type of The objectives of the system included improving customer concern is at least possible with 511. service and reducing the volume of 911 calls. The San Francisco 311 center is a large, purpose-built, professionally staffed, state- Outlook. BART has no changes planned in regard to their of-the-art call center located in the same building as some of 511 participation. Overall, although they do not find 511 to Muni's offices. The 311 center is staffed and operational 7 days be a key part of their customer information strategy, they feel per week, 24 h per day, 365 days per year. Language translation that it does provide an easy-to-remember number for those is offered for dozens of languages.
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57 San Francisco 311 operators use the following three main July 2007, a typical month, and 3% of all 511 menu requests information sources for addressing Muni-related customer in July 2007. Traffic-related menu requests typically account requests: for about 75% of all monthly 511 requests. At the time of the research team's site visit, efforts were underway to ex- · Muni "scheduler" software; pand the NextMuni program fleet-wide and to make the · The NextMuni System (for real-time vehicle arrival time additional arrival time information available on 511 by the estimates); and end of 2007. · The regional Trip Planner System, the same one that is Two of the major tasks in the development of the Muni 511 available on the regional 511 website (www.511.org). arrival times demonstration were as follows: Muni views the 311 center as representing a major improve- · Develop the conversion process for translating the pro- ment over their prior Muni-operated call center in terms of prietary NextBus arrival time data from Muni's real-time the greatly extended hours of operation and overall level of information system vendor into a format that could be sophistication, including the use of tracking numbers for each posted on 511 and call. Muni also noted that use of the Trip Planner by the 311 · Work with the vendor to develop the process for upload- staff has focused a great deal of attention on the tool, helping ing schedule changes in an automated way into the 511 to surface and correct problems and, in general, accelerating arrival times module. the refinement of the tool and increasing its value to the region. Many of the 311 call takers are newly hired, although a Rationale for participation. It was not possible to defin- itively identify Muni's original motivations for participating number of Muni's former CSRs were transferred to 311. This in 511. Repeated attempts to arrange a full interview with the transfer occurred only after service representatives success- Muni personnel who were involved in the early 511 deliber- fully completed the 6-week 311 training course, which in- ations were not successful, although one very brief telephone cluded passing a test. Muni reports that there have been some exchange did occur as part of those attempts. The current challenges with union employees transferring departments, Muni contact, who is focused at least as much on 311 as 511 as well as with the employees that did not pass the 311 quali- and who was not involved in early 511 deliberations, indicated fying test. that the arrival times demonstration really drove Muni's esca- In addition to their 311-based live operator customer ser- lating participation in 511. MUNI noted that the demonstra- vice activities, Muni is also an active and leading participant tion was financed by MTC and that MTC is contributing in the regional 511 system. As well as the optional floodgate $11.2 million for the expansion of Muni arrival times on 511. message at the top of the Muni menu, the Muni submenu For their part, MTC, which recruited transit agencies for par- includes the following options: ticipation in 511, indicates that "some of the smaller agencies [which would not include Muni] were pretty excited to be · Fares (prerecorded information); included . . . most agencies had no real problem with par- · Next bus (automated, real-time vehicle arrival time ticipating . . . everyone was supportive." estimates); Based on the feedback from MTC and the cumulative in- · Operator (transfer to a Muni CSR [at San Francisco 311]); formation from Muni (both from the current contact and the and limited input received from the staff member who had been · Passes (prerecorded information). involved in early 511 decisions), the research team speculates that Muni had no powerful, compelling motivations or spe- Currently, Muni is the only Bay Area transit agency that cific objectives in regard to initial 511 participation. Rather, is providing real-time vehicle arrival time information via 511. they probably saw no drawbacks and wanted to support The project began as a limited-scale demonstration in July MTC, which can be a source of funds, in the 511 effort. With 2005, providing information for streetcars on six Muni lines. the inception of the Muni 511 arrival times demonstration The demonstration has been very successful. In a typical concept and funding from MTC, Muni's interest in, support month, the 511 system fields more than 20,000 Muni arrival for, and expectations regarding 511 escalated. time requests. Arrival times are, by far, the most popular of the Muni 511 menu options, accounting for 70% to 80% of total Impacts. Muni did not note any changes in their incom- Muni 511 requests in a typical month. The volume of Muni ing call volumes as a result of participation in 511. They ex- arrival time requests is large enough to represent a sizable pressed mild interest in Muni-related 511 system statistics, portion of all transit 511 menu selections; about 14% in feeling that transfers from 511 do not impact them that much.
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58 The only financial impact they experienced with 511 par- nitely, including expanding the 511 arrival times information ticipation has been staff time associated with participation in to cover their entire fleet. They see 511 as a good fit with their regional 511 meetings. Muni has borne 511-related costs for own staffed customer information line, the city's 311 system. the 511 arrival times demonstration. Although MTC pro- The only significant planned change in Muni's 511 partic- vided the funding for system development and operation, ipation is the expansion of their vehicle arrival time feature to Muni has expended some significant time to resolve data encompass the entire Muni fleet. transfer issues from their system to NextBus and then to 511. They are working with NextBus to automate the schedule up- Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). loading process, but this was described as fairly labor inten- VTA provides bus, light rail, historic trolley, and demand- sive. Muni was not able to provide specific cost estimates. No response (paratransit) service throughout Santa Clara County other 511-related impacts were identified by Muni. and partners with other systems for bus and rail service between Overall, Muni seems to find value in 511, certainly as the Santa Clara County and Alameda, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, mechanism that made possible their foray into telephone, and San Francisco Counties. VTA's more than 520-vehicle bus real-time arrival time estimates. They also note that they see fleet serves an urbanized area of 326 sq mi with a population a "good fit" between the San Francisco 311 system's Muni of approximately 1.73 million. The 28.6-mi light rail system is customer information system and the regional 511 system. operated with a fleet of 50 cars. (53) The two systems complement one another because 511 is In addition to operating their own customer service call entirely automated (no live operator) and 311 is a live- center and IVR system, VTA actively participates in the Bay operator-only system--and also because the 511 system pro- Area 511, making available a wide range of prerecorded in- vides a single portal for a wide range of regional information formation on 511 and allowing call transfers from 511 to VTA that would never be a part of the city's 311 system. CSRs. In addition to the ability to provide a floodgate mes- Muni also emphasized another major benefit of their in- sage (e.g., for service disruptions) at the top of their menu, the volvement in 511. It was the regional 511 effort, including the VTA 511 submenu includes the following options: 511 website, that drove the development and refinement of the Trip Planner tool that, in turn, has become a critical infor- · Routes and schedules (transfer to VTA call takers); mation resource to Muni's (311) CSRs. In turn, 311's reliance · Service announcements (prerecorded information); on the Trip Planner helped improve the tool. · Fares (prerecorded information); · Passes (prerecorded information); Issues. Overall, it does not appear that Muni has any sig- · Bicycles (prerecorded information, including a phone num- nificant concerns about the 511 system. They have, however, ber and e-mail address for additional information); encountered the following issues and challenges in their 511 · Elevator and escalator status (prerecorded information); and 511-related activities: · Identification cards for persons with disabilities (pre- recorded information); · Some technical challenges, mostly related to data conver- · Customer relations (for information on lost and found and sion, associated with the 511 arrival times demonstration, access for persons with disabilities, both of which transfer including getting the proprietary NextBus data into 511, to VTA call takers). and getting Muni schedule and route information into NextBus and then onto 511; and VTA reports that they generally do not use the floodgate · Some initial concerns on the part of MTC about how the message capability provided by 511. They provide updated City of San Francisco's 311 system could "erode the brand information quarterly to MTC for posting on 511. VTA has identity" of 511, and the impact of potential diversion to 311 altered their marketing of customer information services of Muni-related calls that would otherwise have gone to 511. since joining 511. In addition to their own call center and Regarding the former, Muni has encouraged 311 call takers website information, they now also reference the regional 511 to make callers aware of the Muni information available via system on many of their materials, including their route map 511. Regarding the latter, Muni says that MTC feels that the and individual schedules. positive 511-related impacts of the 311 system (311-related increase in use and refinement of the regional Trip Planner) Rationale for participation. VTA does not believe that more than compensate for the possible negative impacts they made an explicit decision to participate in 511, but from potential shifting of some calls from 511 to 311. rather that they did not protest the MTC-led effort to include a large number of the regional transit providers on the 511 Outlook. Overall, Muni views their 511 experience very system. This is consistent with the information from MTC, positively and plans to continue their participation indefi- who made the 511 recruiting contacts to each transit agency
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59 and when they could not make direct contact, left messages VTA does not view the potential cost savings associated indicating that the agency would be added to 511 unless they with the 511 system paying for incoming local long-distance asked to be omitted. Overall, VTA views 511 as a good sup- calls (rather than VTA paying for them) as significant. plement to their own customer information number, con- VTA does not currently consider the regional 511 telephone sidering it "just one more option for our customers and a system as an adequate substitute for their own IVR. They great service." indicated that "in an ideal world, where we could get every- A long list of pro and con factors were provided to VTA thing we want from 511 [e.g., dictate menu structure] and by the research team and VTA was asked to identify which, have total control, then we would be interested." They if any, factors were considered as part of their decision- would not care where the server is, and they believe that if making process for 511 participation. They indicated that they completely controlled the system it would essentially be none of the factors played any real role, that the decision like their own IVR and they would not care where the hard- was made simply because it seemed like a good supplement ware was located. However they do not think they are any- to their own activities, and that they saw no negative impli- where close to that point yet with 511. They would want cations. They made a point of noting that they definitely control, the ability to ensure quality and consistent formats did not hope that 511 would divert calls from their own in order to remain responsive to what VTA customers want. call center, saying that such diversions could have impacts on VTA's union call takers, who wouldn't want that work Issues. VTA did not identify any significant issues or prob- to be outsourced. They also indicated that they would be lems with the regional 511 system. They did note two items leery of ever letting another entity, like 511, handle their that have been of some concern, however, as follows: operator calls. VTA never had any concerns about potential increases in · Voice recognition performance on 511 is "not perfect, al- call volumes to their customer service line as a result of 511 though it's getting better. Voice recognition software sys- participation. tems in general are really not there yet," and · The effort associated with providing the 511 website (not Impacts. Overall, VTA views 511 participation as benefi- related to the phone system) with updated schedule and cial and a supplement to their telephone customer information route information. services. They primarily view 511 as useful as a way to reach visitors or newcomers to the area who are not familiar with Outlook. Overall, VTA views their 511 experience posi- reaching individual transit agencies directly. tively and finds benefit in the 511 telephone information VTA did not contribute to the funding of either the devel- system as another way to reach their customers, especially opment or operation and maintenance of the regional 511 visitors or those new to the area. VTA's advice to other tran- system. The only 511-related expenses they have experienced sit agencies considering 511 is to view it as "just another are staff time to attend "a couple" of meetings. They did not tool, one more way to get information out" and "an easy make any changes to call center staffing or technologies be- number to remember, which is great for visitors." cause of 511. However, they did devote some time to export- The only proposed change in VTA's 511 participation is ing their route and schedule information to 511, for use in the to add VTA real-time arrival time estimates once their fleet Trip Planner offered on the Bay Area 511 website. management system (i.e., automatic vehicle location with VTA has noticed no changes in their call volume related to schedule adherence monitoring) is implemented. At the time 511, noting that if there are increases, they are obscured by of the team's interview, a Request for Proposals for the sys- the significant overall increase in calls that VTA has experi- tem was expected to be released by the end of 2007. As a enced over the last several years, which they believe are not condition for receiving a share of the $20 million portion of related to 511. VTA was unaware that MTC has 511 call sta- the Bay Bridge funding that has been set aside for transit in- tistics related to the VTA submenu, but expressed interest in formation, MTC has required that any agency able to pro- receiving such information and plan to follow up with MTC. vide arrival time information to 511 must do so. VTA has The primary statistics of interest to VTA are as follows: been participating in MTC-led regional discussion of the expansion of the 511 arrival times feature. They reported · Popularity of VTA menu options (relative to one another); that, to date, the focus has been on issues like bus stop IDs · Call transfers from 511 to VTA and whether the caller re- (as a means to request specific arrival times) and the com- quested the VTA operator or the VTA IVR; and plications associated with developing and maintaining a re- · Call transfers from 511 broken out by time of day and day gional database of such IDs, rather than on how arrival time of week, to help VTA understand their call center staffing estimates will be communicated from individual agencies requirements. to the 511 system.
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60 Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC sideration of transit, and a mechanism for exploring exactly is the transportation planning, coordinating, and financing what benefits, costs, and challenges are associated with transit agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. MTC func- information on 511. They have taken a leadership role because tions as both the regional transportation planning agency-- they felt it was a truly regional opportunity/responsibility that a state designation--and, for federal purposes, as the region's no local agency would be willing to tackle. MPO. (54) A variety of funding sources have been used to support Bay MTC led the development of, and operates and maintains, Area 511, and the transit aspects of it. Initially, federal Con- the Bay Area 511 system, including both the telephone and gestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds were used website elements. There is no cost to individual transit agen- in conjunction with matching funds from the state Service cies for participation in the 511 system other than whatever Authority for Freeways and Expressways (SAFE), in conjunc- time they choose to devote to participation in regional 511- tion with State Transit Assistance (STA) funds. CMAQ funds related meetings, and providing updated information to the are no longer being used and have been replaced by federal 511 system. Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds. Expansion of MTC contacts transit agencies for inputs to 511 on a peri- the 511 real-time vehicle arrival times feature is utilizing por- odic basis, which varies depending on the type of agency and tions of the $20 million set aside from the Bay Bridge project information. Regional rail and ferry operators (e.g., BART, for transit information projects. Muni, Altamont Commuter Express, Golden Gate Ferry), the Bay Bridge, and California Highway Patrol are contacted daily Recruiting transit agencies. Although a few individual in what MTC refers to as "beat calls." Transit agencies are pro- agencies had some interest, there was no groundswell of tran- vided multiple means to submit information to MTC for in- sit agency-led interest in 511 and transit agency participation clusion on 511, including e-mail subscriptions (where MTC was secured by proactive action on the part of MTC. MTC re- subscribes to agencies' periodic e-mail notices in order to cruited transit agencies for participation in 511. They con- keep track of changes), a centralized 511 e-mail address (to tacted each agency to discuss participation and, when they which agencies can direct e-mails), and faxes. MTC uses pro- could not make contact, left messages indicating that MTC fessional voice talent to record all of the transit agency con- would add the agency to the 511 menu system and provide for tent on 511, including floodgate messages and information a call transfer from 511 to that agency's customer information on schedules, fares, etc. line unless the agency objected. A significant focus of MTC's transit-related work on 511 Overall, MTC found that transit agencies were very posi- has been the Muni real-time vehicle arrival times demonstra- tive about being included in the 511 system, which is not sur- tion (described in detail previously in the Muni case study). prising considering that no actions or funding were asked of MTC funded that demonstration and led the work to develop the agencies--they simply had to agree to let MTC add them the interfaces between Muni's vehicle tracking system ven- to the menu. In particular, smaller agencies seemed to view dor, NextBus, and the 511 system. Those interfaces include 511 as an opportunity and an easy way for their customers to the real-time vehicle arrival times estimates, as well as up-to- reach them. MTC reports that no real concerns were brought date comprehensive route and schedule information (arrival up by agencies during recruitment. It does not appear that times are made available to callers by line/route and stop). agencies expressed any concerns about the impact of 511 on Based on the success of the arrival times demonstration, their own customer service call volumes. which included only a handful of Muni's lines, MTC is now leading the effort to expand the arrival times feature to in- Transit agency 511-related concerns. Overall, transit clude the entire Muni fleet, as well as other transit agencies. agencies have had very few concerns with the 511 telephone Findings related to various issues and topics regarding information system. To the extent there have been "prob- MTC's transit 511 activities are organized into several major lems," it is more a case of agencies being uninterested in 511 topic areas and summarized throughout the rest of this section. overall. There are two specific complaints that MTC has en- countered. The first has to do with agency's concerns about Leading and funding the 511 system. Overall, MTC the quality of the 511 voice recognition system. MTC ac- views their work with transit 511 as experimental. Not neces- knowledges that the system performed poorly early on and, sarily because of any uncertainty about its value or whether although it has been improved significantly, additional im- things will work, but because this is a way to explore what is provement would be useful. The second issue, which MTC of value, what works, and what information and techniques has heard about from several transit agencies, is "misdirected are most valued and cost effective. They see transit-related transfers," that is, transfers out of the 511 system that were 511 as another way to promote mobility in the region, a way sent to the incorrect transit agency. MTC reports that they to make the overall 511 service multimodal and support con- did get some complaints from 511 callers and that one transit
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61 agency pulled out of 511 because they were getting calls trans- month, for just a handful of Muni lines suggests to MTC that ferred from 511 that were supposed to go to a different agency. this feature could be a "killer application" for telephone 511. When asked what they think the success of the demonstration Maintaining transit information. As was the case with means for transit information on 511 overall, they indicate the development of 511 overall, as well as the transit compo- that it is "a focus issue." That is, that customers' interest in nent, MTC assumed responsibility for inputting transit agen- transit 511 information varies, and that arrival times seem to cies' updates to 511 simply because they felt that if they did be of far greater interest than much of the basic schedule and not do this, it might not get done. MTC is now wrestling with fare information. their leadership role for maintaining transit information on MTC is currently leading efforts to expand the arrival times 511. Generally, they feel that most agencies do not seem very feature to other transit agencies. They have stated that in interested in maintaining their information on 511. They order for an agency to receive a share of the $20 million of note that they feel like they have to "chase" the agencies to ex- the Bay Bridge funding set aside for transit information, the tract information from them, and feel that this may suggest agency has to make arrival time estimates available to 511, if that the 511 phone system is ultimately not very important to they have such information. One of the major challenges cur- some transit agencies. rently being considered concerns stop IDs. A regional data- MTC says that they have not yet looked closely at the num- base of stop IDs is necessary, since arrival time information is bers, but they knew that maintenance of transit information offered according to route/line, direction, and stop. Developing is a significant expense and are beginning to wonder if the a regional system, adding IDs to signs at all stops, and updating benefits are worth the costs. MTC notes that the recording of the stop ID system (in light of constant service changes) is a transit-related messages on 511 alone represents a significant major challenge. on-going expense. They estimate that half of the 4- to 6-hr Other challenges associated with the arrival time expansion quarterly recording sessions is devoted to transit. They esti- include converting individual agencies' arrival time data into mate that, including the professional voice talent and editing, a format that can be input to 511, and inputting (initially, and the cost to update messages for even one small transit agency then updating periodically) agencies' route and schedule in- could be between $5,000 and $8,000. formation into 511. The Muni demonstration entailed only One could speculate that rather than revealing a change in Muni's arrival time data, which is in the proprietary format of opinion on the part of transit agencies about the value of 511, their vendor, NextBus. Although that effort was critical in that the current ambivalence among many agencies is consistent an explicit format for all 511 arrival time data has been estab- with their original perspectives. In retrospect, the fact that lished, it will still take time and expense on the part of individ- nearly all of the transit agencies were pleased to join 511 does ual transit agencies, and to a lesser extent for MTC, to convert not necessarily suggest a high degree of support and commit- their specific data (a number of agencies are using vendors ment, because they were not asked to demonstrate any real other than NextBus) to that common format. commitment or make any investment. MTC paid for every- In 2006, MTC completed a study that assessed the costs thing and did everything for them. Although MTC's actions and other implications associated with expansion of the ar- were quite logical insomuch as they wanted to get transit rival time feature regionally. The study concluded that costs, 511 off the ground, it suggests that the real measure of tran- to both MTC and to individual transit agencies, would vary sit agencies' true commitment and support for 511 has yet based on a number of factors, including 511 call volumes to be taken. related to arrival times (e.g., could necessitate system capac- At this point, MTC has made no decisions about their long- ity investments, like additional phone and T-1 lines connect- term role in leading the maintenance of transit information on ing 511 with agencies), the number of times each year that an the 511 phone system and, for the time being, plan to make no agency updates their schedule and route information, and the significant changes. When asked how their concern about data size of the transit agency (impacts the magnitude of the maintenance costs could impact transit agencies that provide schedule and route information updates). The study included a great deal of information via 511--especially AC Transit, a high-end estimate (reflecting maximum assumptions on which relies on 511 as their primary contact number--MTC the number of agencies participating [28 agencies], call vol- made it clear that they have made a commitment to such agen- umes, etc.) of about $2 million in implementation costs and cies and would honor it. about $410 thousand in recurring, annual operations and maintenance costs. (55) Real-time arrival time. MTC views the Muni arrival times demonstration as one of the major, if not the greatest, Relationship between 511 and 311. MTC was initially transit-related successes for the 511 telephone system to date. somewhat concerned that the diversion of Muni 511 calls The relatively high volume of calls, 4,000 or more for a typical to the new San Francisco 311 system, which is handling all