511 Case Studies
San Francisco Bay Area
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
April 5, 2001
On July 21, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted the petition of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), filed in March, 1999, for nationwide assignment of the abbreviated dialing code "511" for access to traveler information services. The FCC concluded that a governmental entity may request 511 from both wireline and wireless service providers to use for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) or other transportation information, but left with federal, state, and local transportation agencies the discretion to determine the deployment schedule and the type of transportation information to be provided.
In its order assigning the 511 code, the FCC observed that callers should have access to information that transcends municipal boundaries and that is easily retrievable in a single call, but recognized that "governmental entities, working in conjunction with regional government transportation agencies, will need time to determine uniform standards for how travel information services should be provided to the public." FCC Order 00-256, ¶15.
DOT's ITS Joint Program office is sponsoring an effort to document the progress of early implementers of 511 services for the benefit of the entire transportation community. It is anticipated that five such case studies will be documented, of which the present study is one.
This study addresses the efforts to date of the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to implement 511 access for its TravInfo® traveler information program. As with the agencies subject to other case studies, implementation of 511 access by MTC is a work in progress. The intention of this study is to provide a concise but current "snapshot" of the progress being made and the obstacles being faced by MTC as it works toward implementing 511 access. As these matters develop, this case study may be updated to present more current information.
The principal point of contact regarding MTC's TravInfo® program and its implementation of 511 access is Emily Van Wagner of MTC (email@example.com or (510) 817-3282). The principal author of this case study is Martin Mattes of Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, LLP (firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 438-7273).
A number of documents and web sites are referenced in this case study. To the extent possible, links are provided to these documents and sites.
This document contains five sections:
- Institutional Background and Geography of the San Francisco Bay Area
- Development of Traveler Information Service in the Bay Area
- Plans and Vision for 511 Service
- Ongoing Activities
- Lessons Learned
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation's densest and most heavily populated metropolitan areas, with over 6 million residents in an area of 7,000 square miles. Its nine counties and some 100 cities are served by eight primary public transit systems as well as numerous other local transit operators, altogether carrying an average weekday ridership of about 1.5 million passengers. The combined annual operating budgets of the public transit agencies exceeds $1 billion. There are also numerous specialized services for elderly or disabled travelers, some 18,000 miles of local streets and roads, 1,400 miles of highways, six public ports, and five commercial airports.
San Francisco Bay Area
(Source: www.travinfo.org/bayarea.htm. Reprinted with permission of MTC.)
Rapid growth in the economy and the population of the Bay Area, especially during the latter half of the 1990s, has imposed increasing stress on the region's transportation systems. In 1998, a "meltdown" of San Francisco's Municipal Railway, under the pressure of aging equipment, increased ridership, and controversial work rules, produced nation-wide headlines and made public transportation the issue of greatest concern in local opinion polls. Around the Bay Area, commute times have lengthened and incidents of "road rage" have multiplied.
The people of the Bay Area have a history of involvement in transportation issues, with effects often at odds with conventional planning goals. In 1960, public opposition to construction of a freeway through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park created a major controversy and had the effect of permanently barring the creation of any high-speed thoroughfare between San Mateo and Marin Counties. Projects for replacing and reconstructing freeways and bridges damaged or weakened by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake have been controversial and slow to complete. Air traffic delays cause great distress but construction of new airport runways is delayed by environmental concerns.
As indicated, coordination and cooperation have not always been the hallmark of transportation planning in the Bay Area. Plans of the state transportation department, Caltrans, to address regional highway needs continue to run into opposition from anti-freeway. Proposals to extend BART into Santa Clara County and to other points remain controversial. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board operates a commuter rail line, CalTrain, between San Francisco and San Jose, which is seen as both a complement and a rival to BART. In this context of overlapping systems and competing demands, the Bay Area has been fortunate to have one transportation agency of regional scope, MTC, that has been able to exercise a coordinating role among the region's many special interests and local authorities.
MTC was created by the Legislature of the State of California in 1970 to serve as the transportation planning, coordinating, and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. (See California Government Code, §66500 et seq.) The 19-member governing panel of MTC is responsible for setting agency policies. Fourteen members are appointed directly by local elected officials, two members represent other regional agencies, and three non-voting members represent federal and state transportation agencies and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
MTC functions as both a regional transportation planning agency under state law and, for federal purposes, as the region's metropolitan planning organization (MPO). In the latter role, MTC is responsible for the Regional Transportation Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for development of mass transit, highways, airports, seaports, railroads, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. MTC also screens local agency requests for state and federal grants for transportation projects to determine their compatibility with the regional plan.
Over the years, MTC has come to play an increasingly important role in financing Bay Area transportation improvements. The federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) increased the powers of MPOs like MTC to determine the mix of transportation projects best suited to their regions' needs. MTC also administers federal funds for combating congestion and air pollution as well as state moneys for transportation projects, including the revenues generated by the Bay Area's seven state-owned toll bridges.
MTC also has expanded its involvement, in recent years, in operational projects aimed to promote efficient monitoring and operation of the regional transportation network. These projects include a pioneering computer-based Pavement Management System, developed by MTC staff, that is helping cities and counties to maintain local streets and roads. In partnership with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), MTC oversees installation and operation of call boxes along Bay Area freeways and administers a roving tow truck service that facilitates clearing incidents from congested roadways. Another of MTC's operational projects is the Bay Area Advanced Traveler Information System, also known as TravInfo®.
For more information about MTC and its programs, see www.mtc.ca.gov/about_mtc/about.htm.
In contrast to the decentralized collection of transportation authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area, there has traditionally been a much more coordinated and coherent system for the provision of telecommunications services to the Bay Area's communities. For many years, the only provider of local telephone services in the Bay Area was Pacific Bell, formerly Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, except for two local communities - the City of Novato in Marin County and the Town of Los Gatos in Santa Clara County - that were served exclusively by GTE California, formerly General Telephone Company and now part of Verizon Communications, Inc.
As elsewhere in the country, since the early 1980s competitive providers of long-distance and wireless telecommunications services have been active in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since the mid-1990s, particularly with enactment of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, large numbers of new entrants have been authorized to compete for local landline as well as long-distance and wireless telecommunications business. Several hundred companies have been authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to compete in both the local and long-distance markets and there are no longer any entry restrictions at all for the provision of wireless services.
Despite the large number of nominal competitors, the practical situation is significantly different. Pacific Bell retains a near monopoly in the provision of landline local telephone service to residential customers, while facing substantial competition in the market for local service to business customers from several dozen companies operating their own local facilities, including AT&T, WorldCom, Sprint, and a second tier of new market entrants such as Covad, Focal Communications, Global Crossing, GST, ICG Communications, Mpower Communications, Pac-West Telecomm, RCN, Tele-Pacific Communications, and XO Communications. There are also a number of competitors with few or no facilities, who resell the local services of Pacific Bell. Several of these competitive local carriers recently have fallen on hard times, and several have filed for bankruptcy court protection; others continue to expand their businesses, but at a slower pace than a year or two ago.
Among wireless carriers there is strong competition for both business and personal customers. Competitors include the two original "cellular" networks, now owned by AT&T Wireless and U.K.-based Vodafone, respectively, although the latter provides service under the name Verizon Wireless. More recent entrants into the wireless business include Nextel Communications and two "PCS" networks, one operated by PacBell PCS and lately marketed with other SBC Communications properties as Cingular Wireless, and the other operated and advertised as Sprint PCS. There are also at least two companies, Teligent and WinStar Wireless, providing fixed wireless local telecommunications services to business customers in the Bay Area.
Pacific Bell's network is based on a switching hierarchy that includes local exchange switches and tandem switches. Calls between points within a local exchange area are routed through a local switch in a Pacific Bell central office (CO). Calls between points in different local exchange areas may be routed from a local switch in the originating exchange directly to a local switch in the terminating exchange (direct routing) or may go from the local switch to a larger capacity tandem switch and from there to a local switch in the terminating exchange (tandem routing). The choice is a function of network engineering, with direct routing typically employed only on routes where there is substantial traffic between local exchanges.
Within the San Francisco Bay Area, Pacific Bell operates several hundred local switches in about 75 local exchange areas, with several tandem switches devoted exclusively to interexchange calls. Verizon operates its Novato and Los Gatos exchanges just as if they were local exchange areas within the Pacific Bell service area. Competing local carriers operate far fewer local switches than Pacific Bell and so must serve larger local regions through each switch. Each wireless carrier also has only a small number of switches in the Bay Area, concentrating calls received from a large number of transmission towers at each switch, which is typically installed in proximity to a Pacific Bell tandem to facilitate delivery of calls to or from landline or long-distance points of termination or origination.
In addition to these various classes of telecommunications carriers, there are also several hundred companies or individuals operating pay telephones in the Bay Area. Approximately two-thirds of Bay Area payphones are owned and operated by Pacific Bell. The rest are owned by "independent" payphone service providers (PSPs), ranging from the restaurant or bar owner who owns his own payphone to "mom and pop" companies operating routes of 20 or 30 phones, to a handful of substantial companies each operating 1,000 or more phones in the Bay Area and many times that number nation-wide. Each of these PSPs is entitled, under Section 276 of the Federal Communications Act, as amended in 1996 (47 U.S.C. §276), to reasonable compensation for delivering 511 calls, and they are likely to require such compensation by charging those who try to place such calls.
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC, website: www.cpuc.ca.gov) is a five-member regulatory body, with headquarters in San Francisco, responsible for regulating the rates and services of a broad array of public utilities, including telecommunications carriers and resellers, operating in the State of California. The Commission's quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers and duties are derived from the California Constitution, as augmented by state legislation. The five Commissioners, including the Commission's President, are appointed to their position for six-year terms by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the State Senate. The Commission appoints an Executive Director and a General Counsel. The Legal Division of the Commission staff reports to the General Counsel; the remainder of the Commission staff, except the Legal Division and the Commissioners' personal advisors, reports to the Executive Director.
The CPUC has jurisdiction over hundreds of investor-owned public utilities providing electric, natural gas, thermal steam, water, sewer, and telecommunications services. In the telecommunications area, the Commission has broad jurisdiction over the rates and services of landline local and long-distance carriers, resellers, and operator service providers. The regulatory authority of the CPUC and other state utility commissions over wireless carriers has been severely circumscribed by Federal legislation, which preempts state regulation of wireless carrier rates or market entry, but permits the CPUC to continue to regulate other aspects of wireless carriers' services, including telephone numbering issues, billing practices and service quality. The CPUC never has exerted direct regulatory authority over independent payphone service providers, but has imposed rate caps and consumer safeguards on PSPs through conditions imposed on the access line services local exchange carriers furnish to PSPs.
Formal procedures for seeking action by the Commission are governed by the CPUC's Rules of Practice and Procedure (Title 20, California Administrative Code). Regulated companies, such as Pacific Bell, may apply for authorization to introduce new services or to change the rates or rules for their existing services. Customers may file complaints alleging that regulated companies have not met their responsibilities, and anyone may petition for a change in regulatory rules and regulations.
Once a proceeding has been initiated by the filing of an application, complaint, or petition, an administrative law judge (ALJ) is assigned to manage the proceeding. If no protests or other oppositions are filed, the ALJ normally will proceed within a couple of months to draft a decision for the Commission to consider. After a 30-day comment period, the Commission will adopt either the ALJ's draft decision or a modified version.
If there is opposition the ALJ will schedule a prehearing conference, which provides an occasion to identify issues and schedule the proceeding. In a rulemaking, the ALJ likely will invite the parties to file written comments and replies. In other proceedings, the parties circulate prepared testimony of expert witnesses, who will then be cross-examined at an evidentiary hearing. In a contested case, the ALJ circulates a proposed decision for comment by the parties, and the Commission normally does not act until 30 days after the proposed decision has been mailed.
As an alternative to such formal proceedings, a party may pursue an informal approach. Regulated companies may file "advice letters" to propose amendments to the tariffs that specify the rates, terms, and conditions associated with their services. Customers may submit informal complaints or inquiries to Commissioners or Commission staff, sometimes leading the Commission to open an investigation or simply persuading a utility to reach an accommodation with the customer. In most cases, however, such informal complaints or inquiries do not achieve much success.
Except for constitutional claims, a CPUC decision is not subject to challenge in a court of law unless the challenging party has previously filed a timely application for rehearing with the Commission. The rehearing process enables the Commission to cure any evident defects in its decisions. Partly as a consequence of this process, successful appeals of CPUC decisions, which must be taken to a state court of appeal or the state supreme court, are rare.
As noted above, MTC has increased its involvement, in recent years, in operational projects aimed to promote efficient monitoring and operation of the regional transportation network. An important one of these projects has been the Bay Area Advanced Traveler Information System, also known as TravInfo®.
MTC describes TravInfo® as "a comprehensive system to gather, organize and disseminate timely information on San Francisco Bay Area traffic and road conditions, public transit routes and schedules, carpooling, highway construction and road closures, van and taxi services for disabled travelers, park-and-ride facilities, and bicycle programs." Its dual purposes are to help motorists avoid congestion and to encourage use of public transit and ridesharing services, in both cases by giving Bay Area travelers easy access to travel information that enables them to choose the most appropriate modes, times, and routes for reaching their destinations. (See www.mtc.ca.gov/projects/travinfo/travinf1.htm.)
TravInfo® was selected for funding by U.S. DOT in 1993 as one of 16 field operational tests nationwide. It was implemented through a partnership of public agencies, research institutions, and private firms. The public sector, including especially MTC, Caltrans, and CHP, provided open-access data bases of traffic and public transit information, while the private sector was expected to offer a range of products and services to present this information to the public in convenient and innovative forms, including various types of Internet and wireless access. The project's day-to-day management team operated under the overall direction of a Management Board comprised of MTC, Caltrans District 4, the Golden Gate Division of CHP, and ex-officio representatives of federal agencies and of the University of California's ITS research and development institute, known as California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH). Currently, the project's day-to-day management team operates with policy direction from the Freeway Management Program Executive Committee (comprised of MTC, Caltrans District 4, and the Golden Gate Division of the CHP.
TravInfo® operations began in 1996, with real-time traffic information being made available through a single regional transportation telephone number - 817-1717. Through a program called the California Calling Service, offered by Pacific Bell beginning in 1994, MTC was able to gain the assignment of that seven-digit number in each of the telephone Number Planning Areas (NPAs) within the nine-county Bay Area. Although Pacific Bell terminated this program following the introduction of competition among local telecommunications carriers in 1996, MTC was able to gain assignment of the same seven-digit number in each of the two additional area codes that were created for the Bay Area during the late 1990s (now a total of six NPAs). MTC has placed real or virtual telecommunications nodes in each NPA, so as to maintain the ability of callers anywhere in the Bay Area to reachTravInfo® by dialing the same seven-digit number - 817-1717 without the need to dial an area code. Callers from outside the Bay Area can reach TravInfo® by dialing any Bay Area area code (415, 510, etc.) followed by 817-1717. The field operational test phase of TravInfo® ended in 1998, as the program transitioned from testing to a fully deployed system.
The public sector component of TravInfo® includes the Traveler Information Center (TIC), which collects and integrates static and dynamic traveler information, and the Traveler Advisory Telephone System (TATS), which provides information to travelers through a touch-tone telephone service accessible in all Bay Area area codes. Callers are able to receive up-to-the-minute route-specific information, and are also able to connect to all Bay Area transit and ride-share providers. TravInfo® also operates a limited deployment of freeway surveillance devices.
On the private sector side, a unique aspect of the TravInfo® field operational test was that the program provided an open-access database and architecture that allowed Information Service Providers (ISPs) to retrieve the data free of charge and re-package it for its ultimate dissemination to travelers via the ISPs' commercial products and services. Products made available by this means include web pages, in-vehicle map displays, and programming for personal digital assistants.
After dialing 817-1717, the caller hears a main menu of six options describing the categories of information available. The current TravInfo® menu is as follows:
(Source: www.travinfo.org/about_817.htm. Reprinted with permission of MTC.)
Operators in the TravInfo® TIC work 24 hours a day, seven days a week gathering information from a variety of sources. The TIC is located in the Caltrans District 4 Headquarters in Oakland. For traffic reports, information on speed and congestion comes from Caltrans' Traffic Operations System, an area-wide network of freeway sensors and closed-circuit television cameras. CHP's Computer-Aided Dispatch system provides data on accidents and other incidents on the area's freeways. The system also includes data on construction work, road closures, and events that may affect traffic, such as sporting events and concerts.
TravInfo® also contains data from MTC's transit databases. Operators make direct contact with public transit agencies and other transportation agencies to find out the latest information about new or special services or major service delays. Dialing 817-1717 offers access to a menu-based automated phone system as well as direct telephone connections to any one of the Bay Area's 28 public transit agencies for route, fare and schedule information.
TravInfo® makes traffic reports and other information available in a continuously updated, automated format. The data also is disseminated in a digitized form through a Landline Data Server (LDS) modem to the project's registered participants. Any interested firms and local public agencies can access this information free of charge and reformat the information in ways that may be useful to their constituencies or customers or to potential new markets.
The TravInfo® system now receives an average of 65,000 calls per month, while accommodating much higher call volumes in cases of floods, strikes, power outages and the like. Some 70 percent of calls are routed to public transit agencies; the rest access real-time highway traffic, construction, and ride-sharing information. Surveys have shown that a high percentage of calls are by repeat callers and that more than 55 percent of TravInfo® users modify some aspect of their travel plans based on information received.
For more information about TravInfo®, see www.travinfo.org/index.htm.
TravInfo® is a free service for the calling party, although the caller's telephone carrier may impose local or toll charges for placing the call. Because MTC maintains telecommunications nodes in each of the region's six NPAs, calls to 817-1717 most often are classified as local calls, charged at low rates if charges apply at all. Partly due to uncertainty whether MTC would be able to obtain the 817-1717 number as additional area codes are created in future years, MTC made plans to establish a single toll-free number (such as an 800 number) for access to TravInfo® throughout the Bay Area. This is compatible with Pacific Bell's plan to implement 511 access by having 511 calls "point" to a ten-digit number to identify the termination point for such calls placed within a particular geographical area. The shift to toll-free service will be implemented concurrently with implementation of 511 access, currently planned for the summer of 2001.
With this change, MTC will bear the costs of calls into the TravInfo® system, as well as the frequently incurred costs of forwarding calls to transit agency operators to assist callers with specific questions about transit services. Ongoing negotiations between MTC and telecom carriers indicate that the overall costs to MTC of the telecommunications system supporting TravInfo® will not increase substantially, at least on a per-call basis. The current per-call cost for MTC is estimated at 3.1 cents per minute, plus a weighted average cost of one cent per minute for forwarding about 40-50% of all calls to local transit agencies). Benefits of using a single toll-free access number are that it will allow MTC to receive all calls at a single point and so to abandon reliance on multiple telecommunications nodes, it will minimize the impact of new NPAs, with new area codes, that may be created within the Bay Area, and it will permit callers from outside the Bay Area to reach TravInfo® by dialing the ten-digit toll-free access code.
To summarize MTC's vision for 511 access, it is that TravInfo® should be made accessible by dialing 511 access at the earliest practical time, without charge to callers within the nine-county area served by 817-1717 today and that, as a means to provide information to those coming to but not yet in the Bay Area, callers outside the nine-county area should be able to access the same information via a 1-800 toll-free number. Concurrently, MTC is upgrading its entire traveler information system to improve the quality, accuracy and timeliness of available information and to increase the number of road miles of coverage. Thus, the 511 service will be supported by higher quality information than is available to the TravInfo® system today and will be accessible without charge to the caller over a far greater geographic coverage area.
Among the many transportation agencies in California, MTC was one of the first to undertake the detailed efforts needed to implement 511 access for traveler information. MTC was an active supporter of the U.S. DOT petition to the FCC for assignment of a three-digit access code for this purpose, and it might have seemed that conversion from the currently dedicated seven-digit telephone number to the new 511 code would be a simple matter. It has turned out to be more complicated.
MTC's initial goal was to develop a game plan to implement 511 access within 12 to 18 months for the San Francisco Bay Area. An immediate issue for MTC was whether it would be able to implement 511 access for the Bay Area in advance of implementation for the State of California as a whole. While looking to the state - whether the CPUC or Caltrans - to take on a key coordinating role, MTC was concerned about how the state would propose to implement 511 and whether regional implementation would be delayed by a perceived need to coordinate implementation on a broader basis. As efforts have proceeded, Caltrans has taken on a proactive role and has recognized and supported MTC as the regional agency best positioned to be the first to implement 511 access in California.
Within weeks after the FCC adopted its order last July, MTC and Caltrans met with representatives of the CPUC's Telecommunications Division staff to discuss implementation of 511 access. The CPUC representatives were doubtful about their jurisdiction to take charge of the issue and expressed a preference for becoming involved only if problems were to arise in obtaining cooperation from telecommunications companies. (This was consistent with the FCC's declaration in its July, 2000, order that state regulatory commissions may exercise jurisdiction to the extent necessary to ensure that carriers comply with transportation agencies' requests to deploy 511 expeditiously. FCC Order, ¶15.) The CPUC staff suggested that a useful vehicle for implementation might be the "Calnet" contract, through which the California Department of General Services has contracted with Pacific Bell and MCI WorldCom (now WorldCom, Inc.) to provide telecommunications services for agencies of the state government, and also for regional and local government agencies to the extent they choose to accept the contract's terms.
MTC approached Pacific Bell, but found, not surprisingly, that Pacific Bell was reluctant to commit to a particular set of technical and financial approaches to 511 deployment prior to having a direction established by its parent company, SBC Communications, for all the operating companies in the 12-state SBC network, including Southwestern Bell, Pacific Bell, Nevada Bell, the Ameritech companies, and Southern New England Telephone Company. An Ameritech project manager, Jim Jermain, was assigned by SBC to take the lead in working with MTC on 511 implementation. MTC has continued to work with Pacific Bell and WorldCom, while also supporting Caltrans in its efforts to coordinate the sharing of information and the choices made about 511 deployment among the many state, regional, and local transportation agencies in California.
Caltrans and MTC jointly hosted an initial Statewide 511 Workshop at MTC's Oakland offices on October 18, 2000. Representatives of seven different regional transportation agencies or government councils described the current status of their traveler information programs and the state of their initial planning for 511 implementation. Planning efforts by Caltrans and CHP as well as regulatory issues also were described, and representatives of SBC/Pacific Bell and WorldCom explained the provision of telecommunications services under the Calnet contract. Jim Jermain of SBC explained that SBC was looking to develop standardized 511 and 211 service options for its multi-state serving area - and over the longer term anticipates developing systems to complement Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) under development by the transportation industry. A major issue set for further consideration was the choice between short-term conversion of existing traveler information telephone numbers to 511 and longer-term incorporation of more advanced functions and technology into more sophisticated 511 access systems.
A further Statewide 511 Workshop was held in Los Angeles in mid-November. Participants in the meeting from around the state looked to MTC for leadership and earliest implementation of 511 access (between Summer 2001 and Spring 2002). Continued work with SBC/Pacific Bell and WorldCom seemed headed toward defining service architecture and developing cost estimates, with the goal of adding 511 access services to the options available under the master Calnet contract. Several major regions of the state were identified for 511 deployment, including the nine-county MTC region, the greater Sacramento/Northern California region, the Southern California region, and the San Diego area. Other portions of the state, including the San Joaquin Valley and the central coast, were treated as of lower priority for 511 deployment due to an apparent lack of commitment to ATIS development by local authorities. This meeting also produced consideration of the range of functions that telecommunications services might perform, including intelligent routing to the appropriate transportation agency, reporting of call statistics such as menu selection choices and call volumes originating from landline or wireless stations or from payphones, multilingual options, and prospects for "scalable" services to which new features and content could be added at a later date.
The expectation at the conclusion of the November meeting was that SBC/Pacific Bell and WorldCom would develop a proposal by mid-December for conversion to 511 of the MTC TravInfo® program and the three 1-800 systems operating elsewhere in California, and that Caltrans would inform the CPUC of the transportation agencies' consensus on assignment of the 511 number for the several regions noted above. Caltrans was slated to call a further workshop for Spring, 2001, to focus on progress on implementing 511 access for MTC's TravInfo® program.
David Lively of Caltrans sent the anticipated letter to the CPUC on December 27, 2000, reporting at length on the consultations that had been held among the state's transportation agencies and with the state's master telecommunications contractors, Pacific Bell and WorldCom. The Caltrans letter informed the CPUC that the "earliest deployment of 511 within California" would be by MTC in the nine-county Bay Area, now anticipated to be achieved between Fall 2001 and Spring 2002, depending primarily on the availability of 511 access service from the telecommunications providers. Caltrans went on to describe the less certain alternatives for 511 deployment by regional agencies elsewhere in the state, and concluded by asking what further steps might be needed "to ensure that these agencies have fair and legitimate rights to the 511 number in their regions."
Current information about California's statewide efforts to implement 511 access may be obtained by contacting David Lively, Chief of the Traveler Information Systems Branch of Caltrans, at David_Lively@dot.ca.gov.
Working Toward a Telecommunications Solution
The one "critical path" item of greatest significance for MTC's 511 deployment is clarification of just what telecommunications solution will be implemented for 511 access and what the cost of that solution for the transportation agency will be. Only with that information in hand does MTC feel that it will be in a position to submit applications to the Federal Highway Administration for grants to help fund the implementation effort. A precondition for SBC providing the necessary service description and cost estimates is for the carrier to complete its corporate review of its internally developed proposals for establishing a new service. The goal last Fall was for such a plan to be submitted for approval by SBC management in mid-January.
Accordingly, on January 12th MTC received news that SBC's Product Steering Committee had assigned top priority to development of products for 211 and 511 access, and that "product development resources" would immediately be assigned for the creation of these new products. It was anticipated that regulatory and legal teams within SBC would then meet to assess the need for a tariff or contract and the related role of the public utilities commissions in product deployment. As of mid-February, it appears that SBC will be meeting soon with the CPUC staff and with the state Department of General Services to address tariff and contract issues, respectively. It is hoped that significant progress toward a service offering will be achieved in time to report to the next California Statewide 511 Workshop, slated to be held in April, 2001.
The AIN Database Look-Up System
A key technical issue for 511 implementation has been whether all local telecommunications switches would have to be reprogrammed to recognize the 511 access code and to translate that code into a conventional ten-digit number assigned for routing to the transportation agency responsible for providing traveler information for the local community where the call is placed. Ideally, this would require the cooperation of every telecommunications carrier, landline or wireless, with customers served through one or more local switches operated by that carrier, and with all local switches to be reprogrammed whenever there is a change in the responsible transportation agency or in that agency's telephone number. An alternative suggested - and apparently the one being developed - by SBC is to create a "look-up table" to which all local switches could be programmed to refer upon receiving a 511 call, with current ten-digit reference numbers recorded in that table. This approach, based on Advanced Intelligent Network (AIN) technology already deployed in the networks of Pacific Bell and other SBC companies, will permit updates to be accomplished centrally by revisions to the table, without constant reprogramming of local switches having to be done.
Current planning looks toward pointing the 511 call to a unique 1-800 toll-free number, which would be associated with look-up tables capable of routing the call, based on its point of origin, to the appropriate traveler information system. With the same system, a caller from outside the relevant region could call the 1-800 number directly and be given access to the regional ATIS. By this means, callers within the Bay Area would dial 511 to access TravInfo®, while callers planning trips to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz or the San Joaquin Valley could access TravInfo® by dialing the 1-800 number.
Under the approach being developed by SBC, wireless carriers will have a choice of providing 511 access either by delivering the calls to a landline central office for connection to SBC's AIN data base, or by employing their own equivalent data base to route calls directly to MTC. Wireless carriers are likely to prefer the latter approach, because the wireless carrier thereby would avoid having to pay Pacific Bell charges for access over its network.
Charges and Cost Recovery for 511 Access
There remains the important issue of the extent to which end users will have to pay for 511 access calls. MTC has sought to minimize the incidence of toll charges for calls to TravInfo®, by establishing service nodes in each of the Bay Area NPAs. With a 1-800 number solution for delivery of 511 calls to TravInfo®, the service would remain free for most landline callers, but could be subject to airtime charges for callers on wireless phones. MTC may seek to negotiate with wireless carriers for waiver of airtime charges on 511 calls. On the other hand, the bulk pricing plans to which most wireless customers now subscribe may make the imposition of airtime charges a less serious impediment to use of 511 service than it may formerly have been. SBC, by the way, has sought clarification from the FCC as to whether the FCC's order in Docket 92-105 intended to prohibit imposition of any local or toll charges on any caller who places a 511 call.
Yet to be determined is how SBC/Pacific Bell will propose to recover the costs of implementing the planned 511 access system. One approach would be for transportation agencies to pay for the creation of the AIN data base look-up capacity and for the one-time programming of local switches to access the data base. Another approach would be an ongoing fee for use, either charged on a per-call basis (to the transportation agency or the end-user) or as a periodic (monthly or annual) service fee paid by the transportation agency. A key problem with paying in advance is that "early implementers" like MTC would likely face a disproportionate share of the cost. Charging on a per-call or periodic basis also would impose costs, in the first instance, on the early implementers, but perhaps to a lesser extent. In any event, it may be important to limit the telecommunications carriers' charges to recovery of their one-time incurred costs, eliminating per-call or periodic charges (beyond the normal charges to MTC for 1-800 toll-free calling) once those one-time costs have been recovered.
To avoid penalizing the "early implementer," it may also be appropriate for Pacific Bell and other carriers to include in whatever tariffs or contracts they file a provision requiring transportation agencies implementing 511 at later dates to reimburse MTC for some of the charges it pays to the carriers for the initial implementation. A simpler approach, but one that may not be politically feasible, would be to have the statewide agency, Caltrans, bear the up-front cost, perhaps recovering all or a portion of it over time from regional agencies as they roll-out 511 access to their traveler information services.
Coordination of 511 Implementation With TravInfo® Enhancements
A further issue for MTC is whether to coordinate implementation of 511 access with the roll-out of an enhanced version of the TravInfo® system that is presently in the works. MTC is in the process of determining the most efficient Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system architecture to serve the nine-county, six-NPA Bay Area cost effectively, and will be implementing upgrades in data collection, data fusion, agency coordination, and information dissemination.
Under the current system, the caller dials 817-1717 and is connected to an automated IVR system. Depending on the specific location from which the person is calling and his or her calling plan, there could be a cost incurred in making the call. The caller then selects the information available on the menu. The current system provides the following information:
- Transit -- connects to the desired transit agency.
- Traffic -- provides a listing of current known incidents, slowdowns, and roadwork by subarea and highway route number.
- Rideshare -- the call is transferred to RIDES for information on carpools, vanpools, and commuter check information.
- Highway Construction -- provides information on both current and planned construction projects.
- Parking, bicycle information, and ground transportation to San Francisco airport -- static information on parking lots and bicycle information is available Monday through Friday, callers can get information on ground transportation to SFO via a transfer to RIDES.
- Information on TravInfo Events -- information such as how to get to PacBell Park.
The following improvements are being planned:
- There will be a new IVR system that callers may notice. The technology will be updated with new functionality, including a voice recognition feature allowing the caller to speak the option desired instead of pressing a number on the phone, a feature enhancing compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. The IVR will utilize text-to-voice technology that will allow the system to read information directly out of a computer database. This feature may not make a noticeable difference to callers initially, but it will provide for more comprehensive and timely information to be provided as the system reads the data feeds from Caltrans, CHP, and others.
- The caller will be greeted with a new and redesigned menu. MTC's intention is to develop the menu redesign with customer input, through use of focus groups and/or surveys.
- MTC is exploring an additional offering of weather information. This would be very high-level Bay Area weather information and would not likely be route specific.
- The new TravInfo® will offer enhanced traffic information. Instead of relying on an operator to notice and record a slowdown, route-specific traffic information will automatically be updated to report current conditions. Information from Caltrans detectors and other data sources will be read from the data base. Exact methods for presentation of the information will be determined as part of the detailed design of the enhanced telecommunications system, which is scheduled to begin in May, 2001, but there will certainly be means to provide callers an idea of travel times and congestion on their routes of interest.
- The new TravInfo® also will offer enhanced transit information. Again, the exact presentation and level of the information has yet to be determined, but MTC anticipates using information from existing or new vehicle location systems to provide arrival and or location information. Initially, this will probably be done for BART trains, enabling riders to learn current train locations and/or arrival times at their stations of interest.
- Finally, a new access number will be available - 511 - as part of a telecommunications solution offering all the advantages detailed above.
The present schedule for enhancements to TravInfo® looks to an implementation date between Fall 2001 and Summer 2002, but coordinating that process with 511 implementation would require a decision by April of this year, in order to incorporate 511 into marketing plans for the enhanced TravInfo® system. It may turn out to be simpler and more efficient for MTC to proceed on separate tracks toward implementing 511 access and the enhanced version of TravInfo®.
Marketing and Coordination
MTC has allocated substantial resources - over $1,000,000 per year - for marketing TravInfo® in the coming years. A principal focus of these marketing efforts has been and will continue to be promotion of the seven-digit access number - 817-1717 - that makes TravInfo® easily accessible anywhere in the Bay Area by dialing that number without an area code prefix. Soon, of course, MTC's marketing will shift to promotion of the new three-digit access code - 511 - for which a substantial volume of marketing and advertising is planned.
While concerned to implement 511 access promptly in the San Francisco Bay Area, MTC also has been working closely with Caltrans and other regional agencies in California to facilitate an orderly, coordinated deployment of 511 throughout the state. In this context, the development by SBC/Pacific Bell and WorldCom of an approach for providing telecommunications network support for 511 access that can be applied throughout their service areas will help to foster just such a coordinated deployment of 511 throughout the state and the nation.
The process to date toward implementing 511 access to MTC's TravInfo® program for the San Francisco Bay Area provides some important object lessons for similar efforts in other regions. These include the following:
For a regional agency seeking to implement 511 access promptly, it is important to find a state agency to champion your cause. In California, MTC was "ahead of the game" in its readiness to implement 511, but it would have had a much harder time doing so if it had not had the active support of the state Department of Transportation, Caltrans. Not only has Caltrans provided an important coordinating and motivating force among regional transportation agencies, it also has been willing to assign responsibilities for 511 implementation to those regional agencies willing to take on the task, thereby minimizing the risk of conflicting claims for the right to control use of the 511 code in particular localities.
Key steps along the critical path for 511 access are to gain a commitment of resources by local telecommunications carriers and to have them develop appropriate service offerings. MTC was fortunate to have the opportunity, along with other regional and local transportation agencies, to take advantage of an existing state contract for provision of a broad range of telecommunications services by Pacific Bell and WorldCom. Once MTC and Caltrans managed to gain the attention of appropriate decision makers within the SBC organization, the existing contractual relationships turned out to offer the opportunity to facilitate implementation of appropriate service options. The process, however, is a complicated one, that has yet to bear fruit. Transportation agencies must recognize that defining the telecommunications services and cost recovery mechanisms to be used for 511 access are crucial elements in implementing the program.
Encouraging telecommunications carriers to develop service offerings for 511 access that can be implemented in multiple jurisdictions will ease the task of 511 deployment by communities other than the "early implementers." MTC's efforts to implement 511 access swiftly have been frustrated to some extent by the understandable need of Pacific Bell to develop its plans for offering 511 access in tandem with planning by its parent company, SBC, and its sister telecommunications carriers within the SBC corporate family. While SBC's measured approach to developing a system wide "preferred solution" has undoubtedly been a source of frustration for MTC, it offers a potential advantage for local governments outside the San Francisco Bay Area that are served by Pacific Bell or other SBC affiliates. By the time those governments are ready to implement 511 access for their traveler information services, SBC's preferred solution will have been tested and deployed and any start-up problems likely will have been cured. It makes sense for government agencies, at local, state, and federal levels, to encourage telecommunications carriers to develop 511 access solutions that can be replicated throughout their service areas, and to find ways to distribute the cost of developing those solutions fairly among the "early implementers" like MTC and those local agencies that are slower to put 511 access in place.
Substantial marketing is required to create awareness and usage of traveler information services. MTC has made significant investments in the marketing of its TravInfo® program and especially of the unique access number - 817-1717 - that has been obtained throughout the Bay Area. Well-placed billboards along key Bay Area highways, placards in public transport, and radio spot advertisements all convey the message: timely and helpful travel information is available with the entry of a familiar access code. Access by 511 should be an even easier sell, but the message must be presented to the public clearly and often.