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Published August 24, 2017
Volume 1, Number 8



511 - Where Ever You're Going, Start Here

               

By Barbara Lurenson, Alysha Nachtigall and Rachel Zack
MTC


Information overload! That's how many of us can describe our day to day existence. Yet, in the morning when we get in our cars to go to work, we might wonder, “Could I even take transit to work?” Why not try 511 and get the commute information you are looking for?  The Bay Area’s award-winning 511 service is a one-stop phone and web source for up-to-the-minute traffic, transit, carpool, bicycling, and parking information. The service is free of charge and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the nine-county Bay Area. You can call 511 or visit 511.org.

The 511.org, website received an update in June 2016. A quick tour of the home page shows you the resources available to Hacienda employees and residents. Click “map options” on the  interactive map to see traffic speeds, incidents, and construction, plus transit stops, park and ride locations, and bikeshare stations, among other handy info. There is also a trip planner providing transit trip planning, driving times and directions, as well as bicycling and walking options. And there is an easy lookup tool for getting real-time transit departure times. All this plus a wide range of Bay Area-specific alerts and information for commuters.

This year, 511 added a fully-interactive Spanish language voice recognition and response system to the Bay Area’s 511 phone system. This latest expansion of the toll-free 511 traveler information service allows Spanish-speaking drivers, carpoolers and transit riders to access all the options that have been used more than 80 million times by English-speaking callers. The 511 phone system is a state-of-the-art speech recognition system that provides interactive tools, including real-time transit departure times, traffic conditions, current driving times, and real-time parking availability. It also provides callers with important traveler information and free transfers to 511 Freeway Assist, Clipper®, FasTrak®, public transit and paratransit agency call centers, and more.

Another new 511 feature is a real-time transit departure “skill” available through Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant. Simply “enable” the 511 SF Bay skill and then ask Alexa for your stop ID number to access real-time transit information on Alexa-enabled devices, such as an Echo, Dot, or Tap.

Spotlight on Carpooling
“The options to help people carpool have changed,” said Barbara Laurenson, of MTC. 511 Carpool still offers ridematching through the 511 Ridematch Service (RMS), but 511 is also encouraging people to use Scoop and Waze Carpool to find carpool partners. “We recognize that different tools will work better for different people. Carpool apps are well suited to people who vary when they go to or leave work, while the traditional 511 RMS is best for people who want more stability in their carpool arrangement.”

Hundreds of employees drive to Hacienda alone every day. That many seats headed in the same direction combined with opportunities to pass traffic in managed lanes makes carpooling an excellent commute option for Hacienda employees. Bryton, a Bay Area commuter told 511, “The reason I got started carpooling is because it made economic sense to me--I make the same trip every morning with or without a passenger, so why not drive with someone and make a few bucks doing it? The carpoolers are nice, and with repeated trips we have become more like carpooling "friends" than just driver/passenger. And we get to feel good about the fact that there is one less car congesting traffic because of us. It's a win, win!”  

Rachel Zack of the 511 Carpool Program added, “Carpool apps mix up who you’ll get to meet on your commute, which people really enjoy.” Hacienda employees can find more information and promo codes to get started with carpool apps at Rideshare.511.org.

Rewards and Incentives
Many public agencies provide incentives and rewards commuters who carpool, bike, walk or take transit to work. Some benefits are offered to the entire region every month, like winning gift cards for green commuting, and others vary by county, such as Guaranteed Ride Home programs. 511 collects county rewards and incentives information and displays it in one place on the “Carpool & Vanpool” page. Visit the “Carpool & Vanpool” pages to find out what kind of rewards you may be eligible for.