NY Rolls out 511 Service with Travel and Transit Data; Not All Phones Can Access the Service

With a Press Release on June 19th, Governor David Paterson announced the launch of 511 service throughout New York State . According to the announcement, 511 is a “free and comprehensive service” which provides near real-time “information about traffic incidents, roadway conditions, congestion, work zones, weather, and planned events” and is designed to benefit commuters, long distance travelers, and tourists. The service was launched last year in the New York City area, but reportedly is now available statewide 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there is no charge to access 511, calling 511 from a landline phone will cost the same as making a local call and if a cell phone is used, airtime and roaming charges may apply.

What the Press Release failed to detail is that calls from Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, providers will not work unless the company provides location address information so the system knows where the call originates. Also, customers of traditional telephone companies may not be able to reach 511 if the company has not performed the required translations in their switch (converting the three digit 5-1-1 number to a local seven digit telephone number).

Essentially, the 511 system automatically detects a landline caller’s location from where the call to 511 is placed (using the exchange or NXX code of the phone number – 518-NXX-1234) and a wireless caller’s location from the communications tower to which his or her cellular phone is connected. The system then routes the call to relevant travel information for their local region. There are nine regions in the state: New York City, Long Island, Hudson Valley/Catskill, Capital Region/Albany/Saratoga, Adirondack/Watertown/Plattsburgh, Central/Syracuse/Utica, Finger Lakes/Rochester, Southern Tier/Hornell/Elmira/Binghamton, and Niagara/Buffalo. If a caller seeks information from a different region, toll-free numbers are also available.

According to the 511 New York website, information on the following topics can be found by dialing 511:

* Emergency alerts about major transportation problems

* Traffic conditions, camera images, speeds

* Work zones and construction reports

* Border-crossing conditions

* Transit conditions

* Weather conditions and forecasts

* Transit trip-planning (door to door)

* Transit services

* Intercity bus and rail services

* Paratransit services

* Carpools and vanpools

* Park-and-ride lot locations

* Airports and airport access services

* Ferries, tunnels, and bridges

* Commercial vehicle information

* Bicycling

* Toll information

* Weather condition

Generally, alerts are updated every minute, or even sooner. Alerts will also be made available on the 511 New York website as well, .

According to the Governor, the federally funded service will cost approximately $2.5 million annually to operate and maintain. All states are required to have a 511 system in place by 2010 and 34 states are already in compliance. However, with so many New Yorkers receiving service from providers that may not have technical compatibility with the 511 service, the state may not truly be in compliance yet.

Lou Manuta

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