Plan Around That Subway Construction
November 20th, 2008

The need for real-time travel information became glaringly apparent after the subways flooded last summer. Now, a year-and-a-half later, the state has unveiled 511 NY. (Text message alerts from the MTA are coming soon.)

The service provides real time information on road and transit routes via phone or the Web so that you can know what to expect before you leave home.

Users can now call 511, free of charge, and get information on any mode of transportation in the New York City area, including parts of New Jersey and Long Island. (The service is planned to be rolled out statewide by January next year.) Those outside of the service region can call 888-GO-511-NY.

A voice recognition system delivers service updates on highways, bus routes, and number of other options. If the system itself doesn’t have access to the data a user seeks, it will transfer them to the appropriate agency. With 347 transfer options, callers can find information on anything from para-transit to ride sharing.

Updates are available to the public within seconds of an interruption in many cases. offers expanded options, including a trip planner that uses Google maps.

Many users may just use Google Transit. But that service doesn’t account for service interruptions like the 511NY planner. Planned interruptions are also in included.

New York’s 511 is unique in the country as it is the only service to offer regional data that crosses state lines.

“We want to get this fully turned on before the holidays,” says Todd Westhuis, 511 NY’s project director.

The development of the system and the first few months of operating costs are expected to cost about $5 million. But with only a preliminary roll out, the project has so far only cost about $1 million. The federal government is picking up the tab, including an additional $10 million for four years of operation and maintenance.

It wasn’t immune to the effects of the deteriorating economy, however. In attempt to create awareness of 511, the state originally gave it a $2 million annual marketing budget. All of that caught the budget axe last summer and it now shares a marketing budget with another program.

One other scale back has been the multi-language service. When it was originally being discussed last year, plans were to offer English, Spanish and French-Canadian. But now it is English-only. There are no firm plans to expand its language offerings.

There are also some glitches that might keep users away, especially with the phone service.

The phone system has some issues with voice recognition. In a call to the service today, the automated system hung up on this reporter because it thought “buses” meant “goodbye” after checking three times to makes sure “goodbye” what was being said.

The Web site has some beginner’s problems as well. Some of its links simply don’t work.

It is obviously a work in progress. To offer feedback, users can call 311, or use the State Department of Transportation’s Web site here. (The contact link at doesn’t currently work.)

Once the kinks are ironed out, and the system is fully rolled out, a number of additional improvements are being planned.

RSS feeds will be one of the first initial upgrades.

Another planned tweak is a personalized call service called My511. Dealing with an automated voice service can be tedious. But the service will allow a user to set up an account so they can get only the information they need, and get it immediately.

Eventually, there will even be information on border crossings into Canada from upstate New York.

Just make sure to call before you start driving.

By on November 20, 2008, 5:22 pm
In category: Albany,nextNY,Tech,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Plan Around That Subway Construction”

  1. law school Says:
    October 11th, 2010 at 1:35 am

    Yeah, you are right, I agree with you.

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