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.
The Guidelines suggest that one of the major issues to be considered when developing a 511 system is to understand that deployment costs will vary. The implementer should anticipate the challenges of identifying costs early in the process and estimating these costs as accurately as possible. Documents such as the Deployment Assistance Report (DAR) #1 Business Models and Cost Considerations for 511 Deployment (http://www.its.dot.gov/511/511_Costs.htm) and the ITS Costs Database (www.itscosts.its.dot.gov) have been developed to assist future deployers.
Experience shows that deployment costs are variable and are based on the size of the system; the number of calls estimated or received; the duration of the call; number of transfers made between answering points (e.g., transit, tourism call centers); routing of calls; ease of translating information into a format suitable for 511 and the number of staff that must be accommodated. These costs can range from as low as $100,000 to over $1 million.
The DAR #1 mentioned above cites a Cost Issues paper that was drafted in March 2001 for the 511 Policy Committee that provided some general "rules of thumb" for costs encountered in 511 service provision. Some of these costs include overall costs to operate a traffic management and information facility as well.
Consider the following cost "rules of thumb" when deploying a 511 system:
- Highly automated, limited or no human involvement in operation: These are the least costly systems to establish and to operate. In Arizona, such a system was created for roughly $100,000. Maintenance costs are minimal, roughly $10,000 annually, and telecommunications costs are under $50,000 per year. Be aware that if Arizona’s 511 Model Deployment enhancements are implemented these costs will increase.
- Automated system, with human recorded information: These systems are typical of the metropolitan traffic/multi-modal services. To establish such a service could cost $500,000 to $1 million. A rule of thumb for system operations would be $1 million annually, with that figure varying due to many factors including size of region, hours of operations, etc.
- Human operator-based system: Typical of transit information services, these systems are the most costly, as many full time staff could be required to provide the service. Many services are paying in the millions to create a trip itinerary planning system that operators can use to more quickly and accurately respond to caller inquiries. An annual operating budget for a large transit information center can exceed $4 million.
- Telecommunications costs: A good rule of thumb is $0.25 per call, though of course it varies based on implementation, mix of calls, etc. However, the costs of any physical telephone lines, central office or switch translations are not included in these costs. These are a mix of one time and recurring costs and vary based on the carrier and the number of central offices and switches in the coverage area.
It must be noted that the deployment costs in the bulleted list above include a number of items that are not incidental to the system itself such as: real estate leasing and construction and management level staffing that might not be required for an area that already has a traffic management system or other data gathering.
In a large metropolitan area, with a system that receives between 60,000 and 100,000 calls per day, this could translate into $100,000 and $650,000 for the Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system alone; $100,000 to operate the IVR, combined with operations costs for data gathering and fusion systems, totaling over $2.4 million in O&M costs annually; and an estimated $6.5 million annually in communications costs for a 250 business day cycle.
This experience can have a high impact on the costs of deploying a 511 system. The examples below provide insight into some of the challenges that other early deployers experienced.
- Beware of the costs associated with transferring calls from 511 system host to answering points. In Utah, they did not anticipate the level of costs associated with transferring calls to the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) customer service center. UDOT officials wanted to point out that implementers that understand and estimate their costs upfront more accurately are less likely to be surprised by an unprojected cost.
- Beware that the cost of the phone system itself is far from the only cost factor to deliver quality information. In Kentucky, they found that most of the cost of the system is in gathering and formatting the information provided, not the cost of the calls. They estimated that through September 2000, $7.15 million was expended by the ARTIMIS partners to provide a quality traveler information system. Of that amount, about $750,000 is directly related to supporting the telephone service such as communication charges and equipment, while $6.4 million was expended to obtain the information provided on the phone system. In other words, an implementer should be aware that the cost of the phone system itself is far from the only cost factor to deliver quality information.
- Beware of the costs associated with software licensing when expanding an existing system. In Arizona, they did not anticipate the costs of software licensing when expanding their system. They were very happy with the text to speech software in the Voice Remote Access System (VRAS), but expanding the number of incoming ports into the system resulted in significant license upgrade costs. The vendor priced the text to speech software based on the number of ports. As a result, much of the expected $50,000 upgrade costs were a direct result of the necessary license expansion.
Based on the experience presented in this lesson, the estimated costs to implement a 511 system can vary dramatically and deployers need to recognize the challenge of identifying the costs early in the planning process. With proper planning and execution, deployment costs of a 511 system can be estimated accurately and a safe and efficient 511 system can be implemented on time and on budget.
Deployment Assistance Report #1 Business Models and Cost Considerations for 511 Deployment
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