The iFlorida Model Deployment, which was started in May 2003, called for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 5 (D5) to complete the design, build, and integration of the infrastructure required to support operations in 2 years. The required infrastructure was extensive, spanned numerous stakeholders, and included many technologies that were new to FDOT D5, such as sophisticated traffic management center (TMC) operations software, a wireless network deployed along I-4, an interface to Florida Highway Patrol Computer Aided Dispatch (FHP CAD) data, statewide traffic monitoring, and many others. The iFlorida plans also called for deployment of these technologies in ways that required coordination among more than 20 stakeholders. It was an ambitious plan that would result in dramatically different traffic management operations for FDOT D5 and other transportation stakeholders in the Orlando area.
In implementing the iFlorida plan, FDOT faced many challenges ranging from higher failure rates than expected for some field hardware to difficulties with the Condition Reporting System (CRS) and Central Florida Data Warehouse (CFDW) software. "Despite these challenges, it can be readily claimed that the overall iFlorida Model Deployment was successful," noted in the final evaluation report for the iFlorida Model Deployment, published in January 2009.
The difficulties associated with the iFlorida Model Deployment provided many opportunities to identify lessons learned from the experiences they had. The most important of these are presented below in a series of lessons learned articles.
An extensive network of traffic monitoring equipment was deployed and used to provide traveler information via 511, the Internet, and electronic signs. Taken together, the Central Florida and Statewide 511 systems received about 4,000 calls per day, and the Web site received more than 1,000 visits per day. That represented nearly 2 million visits to the iFlorida 511 and Internet traveler information services per year. The 511 traveler information data were also picked up by the local media and national distributors of traffic information. So traveler information reached the public through both public-sector (i.e., 511 and the iFlorida Web site) and private-sector channels (e.g., broadcast radio and television). Key insights from the 511 operations are provided below.
- Consider the needs of existing users when changing the 511 menu structure. The iFlorida deployment resulted in a significant change to the previously existing 511 menu structure. This change was necessary so that the 511 system could accommodate all the additional roads brought into the system by iFlorida. When the new 511 system was put into use, FDOT received a number of complaints from existing 511 users about the new menu. It appeared that many of these users may have reduced their usage once the new system was in place. Putting in place a mechanism to accommodate these existing users, such as providing access to the old menu structure, could have reduced the number of complaints received and the drop in callers that occurred.
- Beware that the voice recognition system can be a source of problems with 511 systems. About one time in seven, the iFlorida 511 system rejected a user utterance as an invalid command. Because most calls required the user to make several commands to reach the desired information, almost 50 percent of calls included at least one case where the system rejected a user utterance. This meant that a number of 511 calls ended without the caller receiving any traffic information. FDOT's My511 program helped reduce the number of commands needed to reach traveler information for those that registered with the system.
- Realize that most travelers call 511 for information about unusual traffic conditions en route, rather than daily trip planning. In a typical week, less than 300 users called the system at least four times during the week on at least three different days. Of the users that called frequently in a given week, less than half called frequently in the following week. This implied that few 511 callers use the system for daily trip planning. Instead, it appeared that most callers used the system to find out more information about unusual traffic conditions of which they were already aware.
- Consider that only a few callers took advantage of traveler information available for Orlando arterials and toll roads. About 80 percent of the requests for traffic information from the Central Florida 511 system were for I-4 and I-95, with requests for information on toll roads and arterials being about 15 and 5 percent of calls, respectively. A survey of travelers in the Orlando area indicated that the traveler information of greatest interest to the respondents was related to diversions and detours, such as instructions for how to bypass an incident that has occurred.
Observations during the evaluation of iFlorida project revealed that most 511 users call only after becoming aware of-and possibly enter a queue related to-a traffic problem. Then the benefits of the 511 system will be related to how well the system allows users to circumvent traffic problems once on the road rather than how well it helps them plan trips ahead of time. Perhaps the 511 system should even be tailored more towards such users, providing more information specifically designed to help travelers approaching incident-induced congestion. For example, the system could provide information about the location of the incident, where congestion ends, the expected time-extent of the congestion, suggested detour routes, etc. in order to increase the mobility by offering callers choices of potential detours.