Monday, April 24, 2023

Deactivating the 511 Phone Number – and tools to use instead to stay informed

By Lisa Walzl

Starting Friday, May 19, Washington state travelers will no longer be able to access automated statewide travel information by calling 511.

For the past 20 years, the 511 phone number has provided a way to receive traffic impacts, crash alerts, current and future weather forecasts, mountain pass conditions and ferry information (schedules, fares and wait times) as well as reversible-express lane status.

So, why is 511 going away? Simply put, new technology has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people using the service.

Despite high call volumes in the early years of the program, during the past decade, the number has received a steady decrease in usage every year. In 2009 511 had more than 2.2 million calls but in 2022 that number fell to less than 302,000 calls – that’s an 86 percent decrease.

There are a number of likely reasons for the decline in calls – most of them due to new technology. As most of us know, smart phones, the internet and social media have changed our daily life and routines. We think tools like our app and travel map, social media platforms, third-party mapping services and GPS systems integrated into vehicles all have made travelers less likely to call 511. That means it’s not the valuable tool it once was for many travelers.

The 511 phone system is also expensive to operate, costing more than $150,000 a year in hard costs and requiring many staff hours to continually update travel information in the increasingly antiquated technology and to maintain signs about the program.

The steady decrease in use, antiquated technology and cost were the deciding factors in the decision to deactivate the 511 phone number. Once discontinued, these resources will be reallocated to more efficient and emerging information technologies to better serve Washington travelers.

Alternatives to the 511 automated information

While 511 is being discontinued, there still are many ways travelers in Washington can receive timely and accurate travel information, including our app, our website with real-time travel maps, social media accounts, electronic highway variable message signs and highway radio stations – as well as several private mapping apps for smartphones and integrated GPS systems in vehicles.

Travel tools include:

Travelers who do not have access to the internet/smart phone apps

While 511 is going away, there still are ways to get your travel information by landline phone. If you don’t have internet or smart phone access, you can contact us at the numbers below (you may also want to program some of these numbers into your phone or otherwise save them for easy reference):

  • Washington State Ferries’ information phone number 888-808-7977
  • Tolling information (Good To Go!) 866-936-8246
  • Amtrak Cascades 800-872-7245
  • Neighboring states 511 information
    Oregon 503-588-2941
    Idaho 888-432-7623
  • Local weather
    Seattle 206-526-6087
    Spokane 509-244-5992
  • Our Offices


Unknown said...

I much appreciate that you are keeping some form of info access for non smart phone users (a lot of rural and older taxpayers DON'T have smart phones or internet), but it made me giggle that you were suggesting that we "program the numbers" into our non smart phones. It doesn't work that way.

There's a continuing expectation that "everyone has X" expensive tech or will be able to invest in it that is disappointing. It was fair to point out that use had declined. But the supercilious comments about new tech and the unconscious assumptions about it were annoying.

Next time, less smarm, okay?

Unknown said...

The comment made by "unknown" (ending, "Next time, less smarm, okay?") is right on. SImply another example that a traveler without a smartphone is worth so little that inconveniencing him/her is ok.

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