Since 2000, when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission designated “511” for use by state transportation departments, at least 32 services have been launched offering up-to-the-minute information on transit schedules and traffic by dialling 511.
One of the most comprehensive was begun in 2002 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, serving a population of 7 million in nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.
It gets 100,000 calls and 500,000 hits on its 511.org website weekly. The toll-free calls are largely from drivers checking on freeway traffic, while Internet users are most often planning a trip via public transit.
The service takes in eight primary transit systems that together cover an area of about 11,000 square kilometres. It allows drivers to personalize requests; for example to get a daily email alert on driving conditions on their route to work. That feature will soon extend to transit.
Environment Canada said nearly two years ago it would have a 511 line in place for weather and travel information by 2007. It has yet to materialize.
In January, Nova Scotia launched a 511 system for highway conditions.
Here, a system with real-time schedule, fare and travel information is at least a couple of years away.