Provide accurate and timely road condition and weather forecast information to rural travelers in cold weather regions.
Montana Department of Transportation’s experience in designing and deploying the statewide 511 traveler information system.
Made Public Date
04/13/2006

171

Montana
United States
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Identifier
2006-00204

Final Evaluation Report for the Greater Yellowstone Regional Traveler and Weather Information System (GYRTWIS)

Background

In 2000, the U.S. Congress provided funds for projects that were assessed as supporting the improvements of transportation efficiency, promoting safety, increasing traffic flow, reducing emissions, improving traveler information, enhancing alternative transportation modes, building on existing ITS projects, and promoting tourism. A small number of these projects were selected for national evaluation. The Greater Yellowstone Regional Traveler and Weather Information System (GYRTWIS) in Montana was among the selected projects in Fiscal Year 2000.

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has been proactive in deploying road weather information systems (RWIS) to capture road condition information and predict travel conditions. However, the information was often unavailable to travelers. It was also difficult for road maintenance decision makers to use the RWIS information effectively to make decisions on snow and ice control activities.

MDT implemented the GYRTWIS to improve the availability of road weather information to maintenance personnel and travelers. The system was expected to provide detailed weather forecasts and predictions of road conditions to facilitate maintenance operations and improve the utilization of personnel, snow removal equipment, and anti-icing activities. The GYRTWIS system is an interactive telephone information service that provides road condition and weather forecasts via a 511-telephone access number. For travelers, GYRTWIS replaced the *ROAD service, that was a non-interactive, recorded message system.

Lessons Learned

Traveler information systems should include information that is timely, accurate, and useful to the travelers. In rural cold weather regions, like Montana, travelers have indicated that road condition and weather forecast information is the most important information needed when traveling the roadways.

In 1997, prior to developing GYRTWIS, surveys were conducted to determine the concerns and information needs of rural drivers/passengers when traveling in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The survey results were used to determine the 511 information content. A 2003 post-GYRTWIS survey confirmed that travelers consistently rated road condition and weather forecast information as more important than other types of travel information (e.g., city road conditions, accident information, public transit). The post-GYRTWIS survey also confirmed that 511 callers were more satisfied with the accuracy, availability, usefulness, and understandability of the new 511 telephone service compared to the previous service which was a non-interactive, recorded message system.

The GYRTWIS evaluation provided a number of related suggestions:

  • Develop the 511 telephone system to be capable of handling a large volume of callers during winter storm events. The GYRTWIS 511-telephone service was deployed on January 15, 2003. The number of storm events in 2003 resulted in nearly double the number of callers per month (56,591 callers per month on average). March 2003 was a particularly active month with 123 storm events occurring across the state. This resulted in nearly 90,000 callers requesting road and weather information during March. One period in particular March 5 – 9, 2003, sustained 71 of the 123 storm events, resulting in over 55,000 callers and nearly 18,000 calls on March 7, 2003. If the GYRTWIS 511 telephone service had not been capable in handling many callers, the customer satisfaction survey would have indicated a lower satisfaction with the accuracy, availability, usefulness, and ease of understanding.
  • Promote the 511 service so the traveling public is aware of the changeover to the new 511-telephone service. Without public awareness, the traveler information system would not be fully utilized and public benefit would not be maximized. MDT used a low-cost “grassroots” approach to raise awareness of the 511-telephone service. Under the direction of the MDT Public Information Office, marketing and outreach activities began in the summer of 2002, several months ahead of a ribbon-cutting event for the 511 service. Forms of outreach campaign included: press releases, TV news interviews, newspaper articles, highway signs at select locations, and announcements on MDT’s pre-511 telephone numbers. In addition, approximately 240 MDT employees, who actively participate in the MDT Transportation Awareness Program (TAP), raised public awareness of the 511-telephone service to State residents. The TAP allows time-off (with pay) to MDT employees who participate in approved public events to distribute information and educate the public about current MDT programs and initiatives. These public events are often informal settings such as manning a booth at county fairs, trade shows, or local festivals. During the summer of 2002, TAP participants began educating the public and promoting the 511 service.
  • Allow users to provide feedback to help planners and developers identify problems and obtain input on suggested improvements to 511 system’s content, menu, and design. The development team indicated that in terms of public relations, (i.e., customer satisfaction) providing a comment, questions, or feedback line is very useful to record input from users and allow the state to respond to questions and comments in a timely manner.

This lesson describes several of the key factors that contributed to a successful rural traveler information system. Traveler surveys identified that accurate and timely road condition and weather forecast information was the most important type of information for rural travelers. In addition, designing the system to handle a large call volume during weather events, raising public awareness, and obtaining feedback to identify problems and suggested improvements all contributed to the utilization and customer satisfaction with the GYRTWIS 511 telephone service.
 

Final Evaluation Report for the Greater Yellowstone Regional Traveler and Weather Information System (GYRTWIS)

Final Evaluation Report for the Greater Yellowstone Regional Traveler and Weather Information System (GYRTWIS)
Publication Sort Date
12/30/2003
Author
Sanchez, R., et al.
Publisher
Federal Highway Administration, U.S. DOT

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