State Offers Nation’s First Voice-Activated System (December 2001)
SALT LAKE CITY (December 18, 2001)-Today the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), Salt Lake City and other transportation partners expanded the state’s CommuterLink system by launching 511, a free travel information line that offers statewide updates on transportation, including traffic and winter road conditions.
“Finding transportation information in Utah is easier now than ever before,” said John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation. “Much like dialing 911 for an emergency or 411 for directory assistance, those who travel in Utah can now dial 511 for up-to-the-minute transportation information. It’s another way to help Utahns ‘Know Before They Go.'”
By tying into the information gathered through CommuterLink’s traffic sensors, closed circuit television cameras and other resources, Utah’s 511 travel information line can list traffic incidents as soon as they are reported and registered in the CommuterLink database.
Utah is the first state to implement a 511 service, using a combination of voice and Internet technologies, provided by National Engineering Technology and Tellme Networks, Inc. It is the first 511 service that allows callers to simply speak their requests instead of having to select options by dialing more numbers. Utah’s 511 offers four main options: Traffic, Winter Road Conditions, Public Transit and Olympics.
Traffic presents information on traffic incidents, congestion, construction and road closures. In the Salt Lake City area, users can choose a specific road or hear a full report. In other areas of the state, full reports are available for the region surrounding a selected city.
Winter Road Conditions provides details of weather-related road conditions during winter months. This includes icy or snow-covered roads and also information about chains or snow tires.
Beginning in January, Public Transit will give users the hours of operation and general fares for buses and TRAX light rail. Users may connect to call centers for each of these options for more information.
Olympics is geared toward helping Olympic spectators find their way to a desired event. Users can learn the location of an event and also obtain driving directions and public transit instructions to that venue. Schedules of events and tips for local residents to avoid Olympic traffic are also included. Users may connect to an Olympics call center for more information.
“511 will be a key transportation resource during the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games,” said Michael Huerta, managing director of public information for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. “Those going to the Games and those bypassing the Games can turn to 511 for the information they need to navigate successfully.”
Although 511 offers travel information specific to the Olympic Winter Games, it is also a long-term transportation information tool for Utah, according to Martin Knopp, director of Intelligent Transportation Systems for UDOT.
“511 is a long-term resource that will continue to improve and expand over time,” said Knopp. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Eventually, travelers will be able to dial 511 anywhere in the United States to obtain local travel information. Utah, along with Kentucky, Nebraska, Minnesota, California and Arizona, was selected as one of the first states to launch 511 after the Federal Communications Commission officially designated 511 as a nationwide number for travel information in July 2000. Governor Leavitt signed Utah’s 511 Communications System bill, sponsored by Representative Marda Dillree, on Feb. 22, 2001.
The voice of Utah’s new 511 service is Darby Bailey, a Utah native who graduated from East High School and attended both Dixie College and the University of Utah.