Users of the transportation system benefit from knowing up-to-date system conditions. These may include the current speed of traffic on a particular roadway link, the location and severity of an accident along their route, how soon the next bus will arrive at a stop, or many other items. Benefits to users include being able to change the route, start time, or mode of a trip, or to decide not to take the trip at all. Transportation system managers also benefit from making this information available so the public can be encouraged to avoid problem areas or to consider alternatives such as transit.
Availability of traveler information depends on a three-stage approach. First is the collection (or entering of text into a system) of initial or raw data. Examples include traffic detection equipment on a roadway, global positioning system-based tracking systems for buses, or reports typed into a police or fire dispatch system. Second is the compilation or "fusion" of raw data into meaningful information. The final step is availability or delivery of information to users through a variety of means.
Traveler information can be available to the transportation system user through the traditional commercial radio and television broadcast media, through the Internet, and through emerging direct delivery technologies such as emails and text messages. Delivery of information traditionally has been the purview of the media and other private sector companies. The public sector role has been in gathering and verifying information such as traffic speeds and locations of accidents. These roles, however, are evolving; now private companies are placing monitoring devices along freeways to report speeds, and public agencies are maintaining informational Web sites.
Notable is the assignment of "511" as a nationally-designated telephone number for traveler information. State, regional, or local agencies around the country have been encouraged to develop traveler information systems available to the public by dialing 511. Virginia and Maryland have both developed statewide 511 systems.
A critical prerequisite for traveler information, however, is the accuracy and verification of information provided to the public. To improve data sharing and quality and to set the stage for enhanced traveler information availability, the University of Maryland, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination Program (MATOC), has developed the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS). RITIS is designed to be a system that can feed information from a variety of sources to a variety of outlets. Whether through existing media or transportation agencies sources or 511 systems, RITIS will improve the quality and timeliness of information available to the region's traveling public. Traveler information compiled by RITIS is available through the MATOC Program website.