Perform before-research to determine what customers want from 511 services and continue to evaluate the system after implementation.
A national experience with the development and deployment of 511 Systems.
Made Public Date


United States


United States


United States

Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0


In March of 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to designate a nationwide three-digit telephone number for traveler information. In July 2001, the FCC designated 511 as the national traveler information number. As of July 2003, nineteen 511 services across the country are operational and many have learned valuable lessons on deploying and operating systems.

In early 2001, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) with the support of the USDOT established a 511 Deployment Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is that 511 will be a “customer driven multi-modal traveler information service, available across the United States, accessed via telephones and other personal communications devices, realized through locally deployed interoperable systems, enabling a safer, more reliable and efficient transportation system.” In September 2003, the Coalition published the Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0 to assist implementers in developing quality systems and increasing the level of operational knowledge among the 511 community. The lesson below is gathered from this guide, which has captured the experiences from many of the existing 511 services nationwide.

Lessons Learned

For a 511 system to be successful, it has to provide information that is useful and beneficial to its customer, the traveling public. To be effective the implementer has to perform "before" research to determine what customers want from a 511 system and they need to continue to obtain and evaluate customer input once the system is deployed to make sure the information continues to be relevant.

The 511 Deployment Coalition and implementers have invested significant resources to determine what customers want from 511 services. While 511 services are still relatively new to consumers, several clear trends are emerging.

In late 2001, ITS America conducted the first national 511 market research. They conducted a nationwide telephone survey and multiple focus groups across the country. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky 511 system was the only system in operation so the findings were considered to be a "before" baseline. These baseline results included the following items:

  • About 10% of those surveyed had heard of 511
  • 78 % said weather-related and road surface condition information was critical or useful for 511 systems to provide
  • 75 % thought that road incident reports were critical or useful
  • Respondents from the Midwest were most concerned with weather
  • Respondents from the Northeast reported their greatest need to be accident or incident reports
  • For transit riders, information on delays was most critical followed by travel time estimates
  • Roadside signs and other marketing materials should avoid using the word "traveler." The focus groups felt the word connotes a tourist or others unfamiliar with the area. "Travel Information" was the preferred phrase

The ITS America research effort is often echoed in local research efforts and has been reflected in the design of many of the systems currently in operation. The experience of the early deployers of 511 systems has resulted in some specific actions that future deployers should consider when designing and implementing a system. Data is available from early deployers and ITS America and should be consulted when planning or enhancing a 511 system, but the following examples may provide some insight into the benefits of conducting regional consumer research.

  • Perform local consumer research on the 511 service during the planning stage of the project. Research should include what potential users want in a 511 service, how the users will react to the service and what benefits people expect to get out of the service. Consumer research is most effective when performed during the planning stage, once a demonstration system is available, or six months to one year after the service is implemented and then every 12 to 18 months. The Utah DOT held focus groups to gauge consumer reaction to the system that Utah DOT had envisioned. One of the strongest reactions that the focus group provided was to the thought of using an automated system. The majority of the participants thought the only way to deliver the information in a quality easy to use manner would be through live operators. However, after hearing a demonstration of what a voice activated system with concatenated speech outputs would sound like, the participants found it more than acceptable and were surprised at the system's quality and ease of use. This is the type of system that Utah has in place today.
  • Evaluate the 511 service after the system is implemented for user satisfaction. In Minnesota, a statewide travel information survey was performed to determine user awareness and the likelihood of use. MnDOT received the following results to two key questions reflecting usage and customer satisfaction:
    • "Overall, how satisfied are you with the 511 service?"
      • Very/ Somewhat satisfied – 93%
        Not very/ Not at all satisfied – 7%

      "How likely do you think you will be to use the 511 service in the future?"

      • Very/ Somewhat likely – 93%
        Not very/ Not at all likely – 7%

    These results suggest that the users of Minnesota's 511 service are satisfied with what they have today and are willing to use it in the future. However, survey results should also be balanced with continuous feedback loops, or comment lines, like the one offered as a menu item in Minnesota's service.

  • Incorporate consumer research in system development and enhancement. The Virginia DOT, primarily through the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, has incorporated consumer research into the development of the 511 system and its enhancements. Before the 511 system was implemented, potential users were asked to review and rank a series of potential 511 signs. The signs had various layouts (horizontal vs. vertical) and contained slightly different phrases in an attempt to display what potential callers would see on the highways. By far, the focus groups across the state recommended using: a vertical sign alignment; the word "travel" instead of "traveler," and "dial" instead of "call" or other variations. The results reinforced the ITS America-led research effort and the roadway signs located in Virginia's 511 service coverage area reflect this direct consumer input.

This lesson has a high impact on the successful performance of a 511 system. If a 511 system does not reach its customers then it is not an effective system and will not meet the goals the Coalition has envisioned – providing a safer, more reliable and efficient transportation system nationwide. The lesson suggests that there is good data available from other regions, but each region should perform its own research and continue to evaluate the system to remain focused on meeting the needs of the customer.

Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0

Implementation and Operational Guidelines for 511 Services, Version 2.0
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511 Deployment Coalition

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System Engineering Elements

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