WYDOT improves 511 Travel Information Hotline
by Wyoming Department of Transportation
February 12, 2008
An effort undertaken last summer to improve WYDOT's 511 Travel Information telephone service is paying benefits this winter, based on recent customer feedback.
With much of Wyoming experiencing storm after storm over the past two months, it's not surprising that demand on the 511 system has increased substantially. Yet at the same time, the number of complaints about the system is significantly down.
"Even if you don't consider the increased volume of 511 calls, compared to the amount of complaints received, the number of dissatisfied users has dropped tenfold," said WYDOT's Vince Garcia, who oversees the system for WYDOT.
"We're continuing to work on enhancements to the system, but are confident we're providing a much improved service to travelers," Garcia added.
The initial version of 511 phone service went live during the fall of 2006, replacing the previous travel reporting system known as the Wyoming Road Report. Although surveys indicated a majority of the public were at least somewhat satisfied with the new 511 system, but also indicated that specific changes were needed.
Last summer, WYDOT revamped 511 to address common complaints, such as the system was too repetitive, that it couldn't understand user requests and it took too long to hear reports. The system also had a tendency to drop calls during busy periods.
The voice recognition function, which allowed callers to speak their responses when prompted by the system, was the biggest problem last year. The system often couldn't distinguish between the caller's voice and any background noise, resulting in confusion and considerable customer dissatisfaction.
Now, touch-tone input is the default method for using the 511 service, which was restored in late September 2007. Voice response remains as an option, but callers must choose that option at the beginning of the call.
Garcia said the new 511 system has been tested often since the beginning of December, when southern Wyoming in particular began experiencing much colder, snowier and windier weather than normal. From Dec. 1 through Feb. 10, the system fielded nearly 933,000 calls. The peak call volume day so far this winter was Feb. 8, when more than 68,000 calls were made to 511.
"Up to this point, we've been very pleased with the performance of the revamped service," Garcia said. "Our statistics show that the system takes more than 20 calls per minute on average, night and day, and during periods of peak demand, it has handled in excess of 250 calls simultaneously, without busies or dropped calls."
Garcia said that callers in some areas might still encounter a busy signal at times, but that problem is due to limitations of phone systems in some of the state's more rural areas.
WYDOT worked with Meridian Environmental Technology, a firm based in Grand Forks, N.D., to revamp the 511 system. Meridian provides similar travel information services to several other states, including Wyoming neighbors Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
The telephone component of the 511 travel information services provides:
* Road closure and other current advisories;
* Pavement conditions (dry, wet, slick, etc.);
* Current weather conditions;
* Short-term weather forecasts; and
* Seasonal road closures.
The weather forecasts, provided to WYDOT by Meridian, includes predicted changes in temperatures, wind speed and direction, and visibility for the upcoming six hours.
Callers can choose the route for which they wish to hear conditions. After selecting the route, they can then hear a condition report for the entire route, or for only a portion of the route. Callers can also choose to hear the report such that it corresponds with their direction of travel. In the future, regional reports and city-based reports will also be available.