Published August 16, 2011
Volume 19, Number 8

511: Everything You Need to Know about Bay Area Transit and Travel  

The Bay Area’s award-winning 511 transit information system continues to expand its role as an invaluable resource for travelers, no matter what mode of transportation they choose.

Initially launched by the federal government to designate a nationwide three-digit telephone number for traveler information, 511 has been implemented in many different formats throughout the United States. With its vast amount of integrated information and adoption of the latest technology, California’s 511 program has been singled out as the most innovative in the country.  A product of the California Metropolitan Transportation Commission in conjunction with the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Transportation, it provides an ever-growing array of services, from a simple traffic check to help setting up an employee telework program, free of charge. Funding comes from federal, state, and local sources.

The Bay Area’s 511 program delivers its information over the phone by dialing 5-1-1, on the web at 511.org, or through mobile devices and social media sites.

Folding together data from the region’s two-dozen-plus transit agencies, the 511.org home page offers a multiplicity of choices. A uniform interface allows users to view transit schedules and plan trips, get current traffic conditions and view active webcams, find a carpool, or perform a host of other handy functions. Using the Public Transit Trip Planner, travelers can plot out a daily commute or a leisure excursion throughout the Bay area. This utility can now be accessed directly from the Hacienda web site at: www.hacienda.org/forms/forms_order_tripplanner.html or by selecting “Plan Your Commute” on any page where this button appears.

Regional Transit Tweets offer updates from local transit agencies, while a Breaking News & Announcements option details construction in progress, freeway closures, and events that can affect traffic levels. Drivers can also check out current traffic conditions and even view a live shot of the road from the growing network of video cameras, to figure out the smoothest route to their destination. Or they can use the MY 511 service to receive text or email alerts about congestion along a predetermined route.

Coming soon is an update to 511 Traffic that will provide parking information. In San Francisco, the information will be in real-time, covering 14 parking garages and 6,000 on-street spaces, displaying what is available. Static parking information on locations and pricing will be available for other Bay Area counties.

Below are highlights of other recent and planned 511 enhancements. 

Transit Information
Available from the 511.org home page or under the Transit tab, the interactive 511 Transit Trip Planner generates step-by-step instructions for traveling from place to place on public transportation – including an itinerary with schedules, fares, time estimates, and interactive maps from the many agencies serving the Bay Area.

Launching in two phases, later this year and early next, will be a new multimodal trip information feature. Those who use multiple types of transit--for example, driving to a BART station, taking BART, then walking a few blocks to the office—can program in their route and receive a reply that integrates all steps.

The Regional Info tab features the Popular Destinations tool, which allows a search by city or nine destination categories, like museums, parks and gardens, and sport/event venues. A link to the Trip Planner provides the itinerary for that specific trip.

The Traffic Tab
Real-time traffic information is conveyed primarily through the Traffic and Driving Times Map on the home page and under the Traffic tab. The Traffic section of 511.org will be redesigned later this year, with a larger, more interactive map and easier-to- use tools. The update will give users the option to save customized maps.

The Traffic tab includes a List of Popular 511 Driving Times covering 13 major corridors with current and typical data. Calculate Your Driving Time is an interactive feature for routes other than those on the list.

MY 511
The personalized MY 511 service provides information on customized travel routes over the phone, online, or via a mobile device. Users can also set up a list of saved trips and later access up-to-the-minute driving times for any of them. The network delivers reports of traffic slowdowns, complete with exact time, location, and current vehicle speeds, along routes the user specifies.

The MY 511 service can also send out alerts about current conditions associated with driving and transit departure times. Users can configure the time of day, day of week, and alert type they wish to receive, including severity alerts when the trip’s current drive time exceeds the typical drive time by 25 percent or more.

Clipper™ Card
 Clipper is an all-in-one transit card that users customize for their own transit needs. It keeps track of any passes, discount tickets, ride books, and cash value loaded onto it, while applying all applicable fares, discounts and transfer rules..The Clipper card can hold multiple passes, ride books, or tickets (which are specific to the transit system being used), as well as up to $300 in cash value at one time. Cash value on the Clipper card can be used to ride any participating transit system.

Formerly known as TransLink, the Clipper card benefits from a broadened network of participating transit agencies, accepted for use on Muni, BART, AC Transit, SamTrans, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit and Ferry, and VTA.

Purchase cards or add value online, on the phone, at dozens of retail locations, at transit agency ticket offices, or at transit stations. 

Accessed from the Rideshare page, the updated 511 RideMatch service is an interactive, on-demand system that provides help finding carpools, vanpools, or bicycle partners. It’s easy to create a profile and look for commuters with similar travel routes and patterns.

Entering the start and end points in the Carpool tool initiates a blanket search of the current data base to display possible matches going in the specified direction. Then you can send potential rideshare partners an e-mail or give them a call to discuss details like schedules, insurance, and parking, and personal preferences like the use of perfumes, cell phones, or eating in the car.

To promote participation, the “Carpool. Track. Win.” program is currently offering registered Rideshare participants some attractive incentives, such as $100 grocery gift cards, a 2GB iPod Shuffle, and a $10 iTunes Gift Card. Commuters simply log their carpool trips weekly in their online Trip Diary. A minimum of eight days per month is required to be eligible for the monthly drawings.

Rewards are also available for anyone who has a clean commute--walking, biking, teleworking, or taking public transit. Clean commutes can be logged in the same online calendar used by registered Rideshare carpoolers. The prizes are Peet’s coffee gift cards.

Rideshare benefits range from the ability to use carpool lanes to discounted bridge tolls, preferential parking, and commuter tax benefits (for transit and vanpools), not to mention the environmental gains.

Applicants interested in starting a vanpool can speak with a special consultant for help with meeting all criteria, including feasibility advice, assistance with van leasing, recruiting back-up drivers and passengers, and medical exam reimbursements. Rideshare also identifies HOV lanes and Park & Ride lots in the region. Also available is information about the various Guaranteed Ride Home programs throughout the region, designed to help employers promote ridesharing at the workplace.

Twitter users can get instant updates @511Rideshare.

The Bicycling page on the 511 website is a useful resource for both commuters and recreational cyclists. Find route maps, information on taking bikes on public transit and across Bay Area toll bridges, the location of lockers and racks, pointers on commuting and riding safely in traffic, advice on selecting a bike, and even links to cycling organizations.  Videos with pointers on how to travel by bike safely are now available for viewing from the site. 

A 511 Bike Buddy RideMatch feature connects bikers for commuting or weekend rides and links experienced cyclists to newcomers who need to learn bike routes. The BikeMapper online tool works like the Transit Trip Planner, providing all possible bike routes within a user-specified area. 

Go Green
Transportation exhaust from cars, trucks, ships, planes, and trains accounts for nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The new Go Green tab on 511.org explains how individuals can be a part of the solution by driving less and selecting alternative modes of travel, making choices that minimize their carbon footprint.

The Go Green section includes links to the American Council on Exercise’s A Walk A Day program, carshare providers, and information on TeleWork.  It also links to the Spare the Air Everyday tips and alerts.

Additional Information and Services
The 511 umbrella offers more information and additional services. Find out about FasTrak®, the automated toll payment system. Get information and announcements about Spare-the-Air days, surveys, and participation in transit research.

The website also furnishes links to many other resources including airports, car sharing programs, local travel information services, 511 programs outside the Bay Area, and Bay Area tourist information, such as links to local convention and visitors bureaus and Chambers of Commerce.


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