The Maryland Department of Transportation this month launched a valuable new service for the state’s travelers known nationwide as the 511 system. Maryland has been providing travel information through its CHART program, which contains many of the same travel information offerings, but the new system puts all the information in an accessible format and adds a phone information component and a Twitter feed.
The Web site is MD511.org. The statewide Twitter feed is MD511State, and at
MD511.org/TwitterRegions.aspx, you can narrow down the feeds to your region. In Maryland, the phone number is 511. (In Virginia, which has had the service since 2005, dialing 511 gets travelers in touch with the Commonwealth’s information system. The Virginia Web site is VA511.org. There’s no 511 in the District, but the city does have a helpful Web site for traveler information: GoDCgo.com.)
Travelers who call the Maryland number will find it leads to a conversation with the voice-recognition system, responding to your prompts with information about estimated trip times, road incidents, work zones and the weather as well as connections to transit, airport and tourism information.
I appreciate the letter writer’s feedback about his early test and would like to hear from others about whether they are encountering glitches or have tips on its use.
I tried the “Capital Beltway” experiment a few days after Sheinin and found the system recognized the words. It’s going to be like that. We’re in a learning phase. “Beltway” should be simple for the software compared with the various ways Marylanders pronounce place names such as “Towson.”
People using the system can help other travelers by hitting “77” while they’re still on the call and leaving a report about problems they encountered with the voice system.
Caution: Maryland bars drivers from using cellphones unless the device is hands-free. But I’m concerned about any use of 511 by a driver in motion. Sheinin was parked when he made his call. Imagine the distraction of trying to negotiate with a sometimes cranky voice-recognition system while simultaneously navigating in traffic.
Taking your eyes off the road to check the Twitter feed on your mobile device would be even more of a safety hazard. The traffic information provided by the Maryland and Virginia Twitter feeds is quite extensive, but follow the theme of the Maryland program: “Know before you go.”