On July 21, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission assigned 511 as the nationwide traveler information telephone number and granted responsibility for it to government transportation agencies. Since that time, approximately 27 statewide and regional 511 systems have been implemented throughout the United States. In 2002, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly issued a request for proposals for participation in a national 511 Model Deployment. The Model Deployment was intended to demonstrate the benefits of 511 systems and generate lessons learned of use to other 511 deployers and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). The 511 Model Deployment was awarded to an Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)-led coalition of transportation agencies in Arizona. This lesson is based on the FHWA evaluation of the Arizona 511 Model Deployment.
The Model Deployment featured a large number of enhancements to the existing statewide Arizona 511 system. Many new information types, such as an option to transfer to the Arizona Office of Tourism or to airports and transit agencies, were added. Further, it was necessary to add the capability for those agencies to record advisories directly on the 511 system. The Model Deployment also included implementation of the first formal 511 marketing campaign in Arizona. Deployers should take note of the several lessons from the Arizona experience:
- Use dynamic messages signs (DMS) to advertise 511 systems to travelers en-route. The Model Deployment DMS marketing consisted of posting the message, "Road Conditions, Dial 511," simultaneously on all ADOT DMS located on Interstate and state highways throughout the state, 24 hours per day for a 7-day period. During the DMS campaign, daily call volumes increased over 30-fold (3,300%): From 500 to 1,000 calls per day before the campaign to 11,000 to 17,000 calls per day during the campaign. Call volumes dropped dramatically after the campaign but remained somewhat higher than before the campaign. The percentage of cell phone calls also increased dramatically during this period, suggesting that many travelers who saw the 511 DMS message called 511 while still en-route.
- Be sure to market new information to the types of users who would be most interested in that information. The Model Deployment indicated that simply adding new information is not necessarily sufficient to stimulate use of that information. This suggests deployers may not necessarily assume there is latent demand for new information, or that interested users will become aware of it without targeted marketing. In the Model Deployment, very little 511 marketing was targeted to the likely users of the new information and, hence, utilization was very low: 1.3% of all calls during the one year post-enhancement evaluation period included requests for airport information and 0.4% of calls included requests for tourism information. The lack of utilization of the new information types significantly impacted the ability of the Arizona 511 deployers in achieving their objectives related to stimulating consideration of transit as an alternate mode.
Awareness of 511 and its various features is a necessary prerequisite to system utilization and the benefits associated with its usage. Therefore, marketing is a critical activity. Deployers should include a robust marketing program as a core component of 511 roll-outs and on-going operations. Advertisement of 511 via messages on DMS is an effective way to market motorists. Information on 511 that is targeted to other types of travelers, such as transit users, should be marketed using methods appropriate to those travelers.
(Our website has many links to other organizations. While we offer these electronic linkages for your convenience in accessing transportation-related information, please be aware that when you exit our website, the privacy and accessibility policies stated on our website may not be the same as that on other websites.)