Alliance offers 511 one-stop shop

U.S. DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems program 511 site

Four intelligent transportation systems companies have formed a national alliance to provide a one-stop shop of 511 traveler information services to state and local governments.

The companies include:

* Miami-based PBS&J, which will provide project management and design services as well as coordination with telecommunications carriers.

* New York City-based SmartRoute Systems/Westwood One Inc., which will provide telephone systems implementation, national traffic content and interactive voice response.

* Menlo Park, Calif. based Tele Atlas, which will provide map databases, traveler-information servers and Web sites and traffic-television products.

* Minneapolis-based Meteorlogix LLC, which will provide travel-related weather information, travel times and real-time alerting capabilities.

The Federal Communications Commission designated 511 as the national traveler information number three years ago, a move widely supported by the U.S. Transportation Department and dozens of state, local, transit and metropolitan planning agencies.

Supporters hope it would eventually become a nationwide designation — similar to 911 — replacing the 300 or so 10-digit phone numbers in use in various regions. However, state and local agencies, telecommunications carriers and other interested parties, which have formed a coalition to develop guidelines, were left to decide how best to accomplish this. The FCC plans to review progress in 2005.

Rick Schuman, PBS&J's national business manager for Traveler Information Services, said it became apparent that state and local government agencies "really had to put the pieces to together to make 511 work. They just can't flip a switch."

"We see our four companies as the core of what's necessary to quickly relatively easily and very effectively provide 511 service," he said. "We're at a point where we can essentially offer 511 in a box."

Another reason for the alliance, whose formation was announced May 19, is that many areas don't have robust traffic and weather content. "It's not as good information as we ultimately envision," he said, adding that two of the partner companies are the best traffic and weather content providers in the nation.

At least nine states and several regions across the United States have operational 511 systems as of April 24, according to a Web site maintained by the 511 Deployment Coalition, a group composed of more than 30 public agencies, industry groups, industry associations and private companies that work on the issue. It also said at least another 10 states plan to have 511 service this year, and another 21 states and Washington, D.C., have received federal assistance to help in the planning and development of such systems, the site indicated.

Schuman said about 40 million people, or about 15 percent of the nation's population, have access to 511 in their home region. The vision, he said, is to increase access to 50 percent of the population by the end of 2005.

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