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72 a replacement for their own customer information activi- The few exceptions in regard to cost impacts are the several ties, but simply as one more way to potentially reach their transit agencies who, at the time of the interview (mid-2007), customers. Although some transit agencies are fairly cynical participated in the South Florida 511 system. In the only ex- about the value of 511 and its importance to their cus- ample of cost-sharing found, these South Florida transit agen- tomers, some feel that 511 may help them reach potential cies shared the very large annual operations and maintenance transit customers who are not familiar with the direct phone cost (about $2.5 million per year) of the transit component of number to the transit agency, including tourists and new the regional 511 phone system and website. These arrange- residents. Overall, the prevailing view of 511 participation ments have changed since the time of the interview. among the case study transit agencies is characterized as Hardly any of the transit agencies we studied spend any "Why not? It can not hurt and it's just another way to try to significant time or effort on maintaining information on 511 reach and serve our customers." because hardly any of them have any real information on 511. Very few transit agencies have made any attempt to shift In the few cases where transit agencies do provide consider- calls from their traditional customer service line to 511 and able information on 511, there can be significant effort asso- almost all of the marketing on the part of 511 system sponsors ciated with maintaining it. Many 511 systems that include is targeted to travelers in general. For most transit agencies, transit give transit agencies the ability to provide floodgate the extent of 511 promotion is limited to including the 511 messages regarding service disruptions at the top of the tran- logo on their printed materials. A rare exception is Alameda sit menu or, less commonly, at the top of the overall 511 County Transit in Oakland, CA. They have embraced 511 as menu. However, most transit agencies do not take much ad- their primary customer service number and market it as such vantage of this capability because they do not have many dis- to their customers. More precisely, they embraced the regional ruptions, because by the time they get the information on 511 traveler information number that was the precursor to 511 the disruption is over, or because they do not want to take the in the region, but have continued this approach since conver- time to do it. sion of that traditional 10-digit number to 511. Few transit agencies have extensive prerecorded informa- tion or real-time vehicle arrival/departure information on 511. Agencies in San Francisco and San Diego are two exceptions. Impacts of 511 Participation Transit agencies with that sort of information on 511 can spend on Transit Agencies considerable time setting up 511 menu structures, estab- Major findings and conclusions related to the following lishing formats for transferring their route, schedule, and types of 511 participation impacts on transit agencies are dis- other data to 511, and periodically updating their 511 infor- cussed in the sections that follow: mation. Most transit agencies do not have much informa- tion on 511 systems and spend very little time setting it up Costs, technology, and staffing; or maintaining it. Positive impacts (benefits); Statistical evidence of 511 impacts (e.g., call transfers from Positive impacts (benefits). There are a number of pos- 511 to a transit call center); itive impacts or benefits for transit agencies participating in Using 511 as a potential alternative to a transit agency 511. Most transit agencies feel that participation in 511 helps IVR; and maintain their place at the regional transportation table and Other issues encountered. strengthen their relationship with other agencies. Some the- orize that 511 may be helping them reach tourists and new- Costs, technology, and staffing. Most transit agencies comers to their region who may know about 511 from their report no discernable negative impacts of 511 participation. experiences elsewhere and who may not know how to reach None feel that the total number of calls to their call center the transit agency directly. has increased to any noticeable degree, or have experienced There is one theoretical 511-related economic benefit asso- any associated adverse impacts on their call center opera- ciated with non-local toll-free calls, although none of the tions (wait times, staffing, hours of operation, etc.). Most agencies interviewed cited it for their agency. Many transit transit agencies participating in 511 hear nothing about 511, agencies make long distance calls to their customer service pro or con, from their customers. For almost all of the tran- center free to their customers. In regions where a single tran- sit agencies, there has been no direct cost to participate in sit agency service area includes several area codes, this can be 511. Investments have been limited to staff participation in a sizable expense. Most 511 calls are likewise toll-free. Since 511-related meetings, which varies from a very minor, to a most 511 systems that transfer calls to transit agencies do so fairly significant, time investment. None of the transit agen- at no expense to the transit agencies, long distance transit calls cies studied has to pay for the cost of the call transfer from 511 routed through 511 rather than going directly to the transit to their customer information line. agency save the transit agency money.

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73 None of the transit agencies studied identified this as a mo- and a number of them indicated that they did not think the tivation for their participation in 511, or cited such cost sav- 511 system operator would be willing or able to provide the ings. However, one agency did indicate that this had been a desired IVR functionality. Although feeling that 511 was not strong motivation for another transit agency in the region, an IVR substitute for them, a few transit agencies did suggest which adopted the regional information number that pre- that 511 might be able to provide at least some of the IVR- ceded 511 as that agency's primary customer service number. type functionality for those transit agencies that cannot afford This other agency had reportedly saved considerable money to implement their own IVR system. as a result. Interestingly, the agency that shared this story felt that, for their own agency, this cost savings did not offset Other issues encountered. Overall, very few of the what they perceived as the downside to routing their own transit agencies studied identified any particular issues in re- calls through 511. gard to their 511 participation. For most agencies, their in- volvement in 511 is very limited (typically just a call transfer Statistical evidence of 511 impacts on transit. None of option), so there is little opportunity for issues. Some transit the transit agencies reported any discernable increase in call agencies noted concerns about the quality of the voice recog- volumes to their customer information line as a result of their nition on their region's 511 system, especially when it was 511 participation. In all but one case, those observations are first implemented. purely subjective. The transit agencies do not have access to The two major exceptions--areas where there are some any statistics quantifying call transfers from 511, 511 menu significant 511 issues--are in the San Francisco Bay Area and selections related to their agency, or any other transit-related in South Florida (thus the decision to include site visits to 511 operating statistics. Although most agencies do not view these areas as part of the case study data collection activities). such information as critical, feeling that if there was an im- In the Bay Area after several years of significant transit in- pact they would be aware of it already, a number of them did volvement in 511, one of the larger developing issues is that express interest in such data and indicated that they would the 511 system sponsor is finding it costly to maintain all of follow up with their 511 system operator. the transit information on the system. They had originally as- In this study, the data collection focus is the transit agen- sumed responsibility for maintaining and updating the tran- cies, and since only one had any 511 statistics, a comprehen- sit agencies' 511 content (including use of professional voice sive assessment of transit-related 511 statistics nationwide talent to record messages) because they were concerned that has not been performed. However, in the course of our re- if they did not do so, transit agencies would not participate. search, and based on past 511 projects, the study team was Now, realizing how much time and effort goes into these ac- able to collect a sampling of transit-related 511 statistics from tivities, and finding it a challenge to retrieve this information some 511 system operators who had these data available. The from transit agencies who do not necessarily demonstrate an published 511 Deployment Coalition statistics related to interest in 511, MTC is reassessing their approach. transit are limited to the percentage of all 511 calls nationwide Another significant issue in the Bay Area has to do with ex- that involve a transit request. Overall, the transit-related panding the 511 vehicle arrival time feature from a single- statistics we collected were quite variable from one 511 sys- agency demonstration to include many other transit agencies tem to another. Very few 511 systems (namely MTC in the throughout the region. The expansion poses many technical San Francisco Bay Area) track more than transit call trans- challenges, including a possible regional transit stop identifi- fers and/or high-level transit menu selections. Based on the cation system and conversion of different agencies' various limited data, transit-related menu selections or calls are schedule, route, and vehicle status databases into a common a relatively small proportion of 511 activity, ranging from format for use by the 511 system. It is also not yet clear how 2% to about 24%. The highest percentages are observed much it will cost to implement and operate a much expanded in the Bay Area, where transit has been a major component version of the arrival time feature. Another less significant of regional traveler information phone service. The volume issue surfaced in the Bay Area research concerns the relation- of calls transferred from 511 to Bay Area transit agencies ship between 511 systems and municipal 311 staffed telephone ranges from several hundred per month to several thousand information systems--namely, how to differentiate the sys- per month. tems clearly to the public. There are three issues associated with transit agencies' expe- Using 511 as an alternative to a transit agency IVR sys- riences with the South Florida 511 system. The first issue is the tem. None of the transit agencies interviewed view partici- cost sharing relationship wherein the transit agencies were pay- pation in a 511 system as an alternative to investing in their ing (arrangements have since changed) approximately $2.5 mil- own IVR (many transit agencies indicated that they had no lion annually to support the cost of the transit component of need for an IVR at all). The agencies cited concerns about loss the 511 telephone service and website. The agencies, under- of control over the format and quality of their information, standably, found this to be a tremendous burden.