Route choice - notifying travelers about travel times or delays

Providing travelers with pre-trip and real-time information about travel times and potential delays can help them make alternate routing and timing decisions to avoid congestion.

Key characteristics




Other names

  • Traveler information for travel times
  • Queue warning

Strategy description

When additional travel time is expected on a given route, it is important to communicate this to road users as soon as possible. This may involve pre-trip and/or en route information. Travelers with travel time information can reduce their own delay and help mitigate overall system congestion by adjusting their route or time of departure.  

Traveler information, that includes communication of travel time and delay, should communicate a message that is useful to the traveler, improve overall on-time performance for the route, encourage trust in the information, and convey the reliability of the potential arrival time of the route.

Pre-trip:  Communicating anticipated delays in advance of travel

Radio, television, and newspapers are important resources for public information and outreach, and are a great way to communicate upcoming delays to travelers. Providing traffic information as a news story can result in free media coverage from traditional outlets.

Agency websites can provide a real-time map of traffic conditions on their website. Travelers can view the map to identify anticipated travel delays and plan their trip accordingly.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide an outreach mechanism that is highly accessible to many travelers with minimal agency investment. Notifications via email, text message, or smartphone push notifications can also be used to provide news of upcoming delays expected in the region.

During trip: Notifying travelers of travel time and delay en route

Highway advisory radio transmits audio traveler information messages to travelers within range of the radio signal. Roadside signs inform travelers of the radio frequency and often use flashing lights to alert travelers when advisory messages are being broadcast.

Variable message signs (VMS) can be used to calculate and share travel times with travelers, and suggest alternate routes when appropriate. To be most useful, VMS should provide information at key junctions giving drivers plenty of time to make an informed decision about which route to take.

In addition, providing updated travel time information to popular GPS navigation smartphone apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, provides customized information to travelers in real-time and provides potential alternate routes based on all of the information available.

When to use this strategy

Notifying travelers about travel times or delays makes sense for all major roadways where significant travel time changes impact a larger number of travelers. The strategies can be implemented before and during trips using various technologies.

Strategy benefits:

  • Reduced congestion and delay when travelers use the travel time and delay information provided to change their route or trip departure time
  • When the traveling public are provided with communication before and during their trip about travel times and delay, the overall on-time performance and efficiency of the route can be improved

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

  • Standardize communication responses and travel time and delay performance metrics that prompt messaging to travelers

Planning needs:

  • Plan for selecting communication methods and messages that effectively convey travel times and delay

Coordination needs:

  • Coordinate with the Traffic Management Center, law enforcement, and maintenance staff to agree on who will identify and share provide information about travel times and delay

Equipment needs:

  • Variable message signs and software that will calculate and communicate travel times and delay

Maintenance needs:

  • Maintenance of all roadside detection equipment and signage that is used to communicate the traveler messages to ensure their ongoing effectiveness

Agency resources needs:

  • Staff to maintain all equipment and ensure that the information for travelers is accurate

Learn more about this strategy

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Applies to corridors with high traffic volumes that have a parallel route that is used, or could be used, during an incident.

Cost notes:

Costs include purchasing variable message signs and hosting a website. Ongoing costs include collecting and sharing travel information to inform travelers about travel times or delays.

Technology notes:

The technology needed to inform travelers about travel times or delays includes variable message signs, websites, and sharing travel information with the private sector.

Collaboration notes:

Requires significant collaboration between multiple transportation agencies, emergency responders, transit agencies, and regional planning agencies to plan, design, and implement parallel route management systems.