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New Hookup Links 511 Service With Hearing-, Speech-Impaired Travelers

711 Relay Delivers On-demand Traffic, Transit, Carpool, Bike News

Hearing- and speech-impaired people can now use the Bay Area's popular new 511 traffic and traveler information service by dialing another easy-to-remember, three-digit number - 711. The breakthrough is the result of a partnership between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which developed and manages the Bay Area 511 service, and the California Relay Service, which operates the 711 service for hearing- or speech-impaired callers. The toll-free 711 number replaced the old 800-735-2929 number previously used by hearing- and speech-impaired Californians.

Dialing 711 will connect callers to the California Relay Service, which provides access to TTY machines (or TDDs for telecommunications devices for the deaf) that allow hearing- and speech-impaired persons to communicate directly with voice phone users. Callers simply ask for 511 service and inform the 711 operators exactly what travel information they want - from traffic conditions to transit schedules to carpool or bicycling information. The 711 operators will access the data from the 511 system and relay it to hearing- or speech-impaired callers throughout the Bay Area.

"I'm very excited that 511 is now accessible to the speech- and hearing-impaired community with the completion of the link with 711, the California Relay Service," said Janet Abelson, El Cerrito City Councilmember and chair of MTC's Elderly and Disabled Advisory Committee.

Ann Flemer, MTC's deputy director for operations echoed Abelson's comments, saying, "We're really pleased to have the 711-to-511 relay in place. MTC is committed to improving mobility for all Bay Area residents, and this partnership brings the power of the 511 system to thousands more people."

MTC introduced the 511 service, with a companion Web portal at <www.511.org>, in December 2002 to provide up-to-the-minute, on-demand information for transit riders, drivers, carpoolers, vanpoolers, and bicyclists throughout the Bay Area. The Bay Area's 511 service is the first comprehensive service of its kind in California, and has served as a model for other regions that will be launching their own 511 systems.

"If you're a driver, 511 will tell you if there's a delay or road closure, and you can decide to take an alternate route or leave a little later," explained project manager Emily Van Wagner of MTC. "Public transit riders can find out which route to take; when the next bus, train, or ferry is scheduled to run; or how much the fare will be." Van Wagner went on to describe the flexibility of the 511 service. While the default mode is a state-of-the-art, voice-enabled phone system, there's a traditional touch-tone option as well - just press "0" at each menu prompt. This makes 511 convenient for callers who can hear but have difficulty speaking.

MTC's online transit planning and information service - now available at www.transitinfo.org - is being expanded to cover all Bay Area transit operators and will migrate to the 511.org web site this spring. Also available later this year - via both phone and Web - will be a service providing actual travel times from point to point along key freeway routes.

The Bay Area rollout of the 511 service is the result of a partnership between MTC, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the California Highway Patrol (CHP), dozens of the region's transit and paratransit operators, and RIDES for Bay Area Commuters Inc - which supplies carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, and other commute option information, including information about transportation to airports. Much of the 511 system's traffic information is provided directly via CHP reports, allowing 511 to tell drivers about an incident almost immediately.

MTC and its public and private partners began developing the 511 system for the Bay Area in 2000, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted exclusive use of the 511 phone number to state and local transportation departments to distribute traveler information. The FCC in 2000 also mandated that all telecommunications carriers in the U.S. implement 711 service to make access to Telecommunications Relay Services quick and convenient.