Published February 18, 2003
Volume 11, Number 2

MTC Makes Planning Your Trip Easier With 511.org Website
The 511.org web site has real-time traffic and transit information 24 hours a day.

When you need a phone number, getting it is as easy as dialing 411 on your telephone. When you need emergency services, everyone knows that dialing 911 will connect you to the help you need. However, to find a transit route to a Bay Area destination, in the past you were pretty much relegated to digging through a phone book to try to locate the agency that could tell you what you needed to know. The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is making great strides toward making finding travel information as easy as requesting a phone number. Simply dialing 511 from any area code in the nine county Bay Area will connect you to transportation information for all of the region’s transit options-from buses to trains to vanpools. However, if you prefer to gather information online, the MTC has unveiled a new tool that you may find useful.

Although MTC’s new website at www.511.org is still under final development, by the summer of 2003, it will serve as a one-stop web resource for all Bay Area transportation-related information about public transportation, rideshare, bicycling, and driving. The site will provide information on 35 local public transportation operators, 20 paratransit providers for elderly and disabled people, and nine interregional public transportation operators. The information will serve residents of and visitors to Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma counties. Other information will include details about programs that provide monetary rewards for trying alternatives to driving alone, including the Commuter Tax Benefit program; and reports on traffic conditions, such as incidents, slowdowns, and closures from CHP, Caltrans, and other transportation agencies. In addition, www.511.org will provide an automated web-based tool that lets travelers plan their trips on public transportation. Users will be able to type in their starting and destination points to find out how to get where they're going using public transportation. Information will include routes, departure/arrival times, transfers, maps, and fares.

The 511 phone service, launched in December 2002 has been very successful. The service received more than 10,000 calls on its first day, a huge jump in usage over the Bay Area’s previous traveler information line, 817-1717, which had an average of just 2,000 calls per day. In its first month of operation, 511 received over 150,000 calls. “In the month of December, we received a lot of comments on our phone system and the majority of those comments were very positive,” says Emily Van Wagner, Senior Program Coordinator at MTC.  Other planned improvements include the ability to acquire estimated driving times for specific routes based on real-time information from cars on the road. 511 is also gaining acceptance from mobile telephone service providers. Currently, the service is locally supported by AT&T, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, and T-Mobile, so you can get travel information while you’re on the go.

For more information on the 511 service visit www.511.org.

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