Traveler information services use personal, connected devices to provide travelers with real-time and customizable information that is relevant to their specific travel needs. This can include location-based information about delays, incidents, weather-related messages, travel times, emergency alerts, route guidance, and more.
Traveler information services provide real-time, customizable information to travelers that is relevant to their specific travel needs. Accessible on personal, connected devices before and during trips, this information allows travelers to make more effective travel decisions about changing routes, modes, departure times, or even destinations. 511, mobile applications/websites, and social media are three of the primary ways that agencies provide traveler information to users with personal connected devices.
511 telephone services
In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 511 as the nation-wide traveler information telephone number. 511 systems provide on-demand information to all travelers with phone access before and during a trip. With the popularity of cell phones, most travelers have immediate access to travel information by calling 511. However, because it requires calling, en-route use of 511 can encourage distracted driving, especially if the system requires touch-tone selection.
Mobile applications and websites
Traveler information mobile applications and websites provide on-demand roadway travel information to anyone who owns a smartphone or other Internet-connected device both before and during trips. They can also provide information pertinent to a traveler’s current location based on the device’s GPS location and allow users to request automatic area- or route-specific notifications.
A downside of mobile applications is that they require users to own a device and to download the application, which may hinder adoption. Also, traveler information applications may cause distracted driving if they are used en-route by a driver.
In-vehicle traveler information systems
Most new cars today are equipped with infotainment systems that connect to the driver’s mobile device, which allows mapping and traveler information applications running on the phone to be displayed on the vehicle’s larger built-in display. CarPlay for iPhone and Android Auto for Android devices provide special versions of mapping applications optimized for use while driving to minimize distraction (e.g., simplified presentation of information, fewer touch interactions required).
Some vehicles with built-in data connections receive information directly from information service providers and present critical traveler information automatically to the driver using built-in displays and notification systems. It is anticipated that the capabilities of vehicle-based systems will continue to advance, with more and richer data sources becoming available and improved methods for presenting information with minimized distraction.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide an outreach mechanism that is highly accessible to many travelers without much agency investment. Social media also provide travelers with a reverse-direction outlet for reporting conditions and alerting the local transportation agency. Although social media does not require users to seek travel information expressly, they may contribute to distracted driving
When to use this strategy
Traveler information services accessible on personal, connected devices makes sense for a wide range of agencies, geographies, and transportation modes, where travelers may benefit from pre-trip information for planning their travel and real-time information to keep them informed during their travel.
- Versatility to provide many types of information across any region or mode, both pre-trip and en-route
- Potential to reach the widest audience possible due to the popularity of personal, connected devices
- Improves traveler decision-making, which can improve safety, reduce congestion, and decrease traveler frustration
- Provides travelers more relevant information because the software allows information to be tailored to the user’s individual trip, including location-based, situational notifications
- Supports more transit use by providing a realistic estimation of transit vehicle arrival times, as well as trip planning support that shows transit line and connection options
- Reducing costs and improving public access to information by leveraging third-party information service providers’ technology expertise to develop and maintain the applications that travelers will use
What you need in order to implement
Providing traveler information services to users on their personal, connected devices requires a range of capabilities, depending on the technology platform and business model an agency chooses. However, all require the capability to collect up-to-date information about the transportation system (traffic conditions, incidents, transit vehicle status, etc.), store it, and organize it systematically so it can be shared easily with others. Capabilities specific to 511, mobile applications/websites, and social media are identified below.
511 telephone services:
A call center or computer program to provide (generally automated) information to customers based on real-time conditions
A sufficient number of phone lines to ensure that callers are able to access the system
Ability to inform travelers concisely without an overly complicated touch-tone menu
Mobile applications and websites:
For agency-owned applications:
Synthesized data that is sorted to provide settings-based and/or location-based notifications to travelers
Institutional ability to build, maintain, and update the application to ensure it remains useful to travelers
Design that minimizes driver distraction
Design that is flexible to support a variety of device types, screen sizes, and mobile environments.
For supporting third-party applications:
Public data portal to provide agency data feeds to third-party traveler information service providers (ISPs) for integration into commercial trip planning and traveler information applications
Creation of social media accounts on major platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook
Dedicated staff to update and respond to posts as quickly as possible (24/7) to optimize the usefulness of the tool
Monitoring and approval of community posts to ensure the appropriateness of the communication
Learn more about this strategy
Washington 511: Washington State’s 511 webpage.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Next Generation Traveler Information System: A Five Year Outlook, 2015 (PDF).
About key characteristics
Traveler information services that are accessible on personal, connected devices are useful in nearly any location where travelers may benefit from pre-trip information for planning their travel and real-time information to keep them informed during their travel.
Upfront costs to develop a data capture, storage, and distribution capability are relatively high. However, because it is a software-based solution, the costs to maintain and expand the service are relatively low.
Technology needs vary depending on the technology platform and business model an agency chooses, but the need to support the real-time capture, storage, and distribution of travel conditions information (e.g., traffic, incidents, transit vehicle status) requires a significant amount of technology.
Collaboration requirements can be very high due to the need to integrate with external data sources or work with third-party data providers to disseminate traveler information.