The State of Maryland has launched a new 511 system for travel information. However, like Virginia 511, the service is heavily road-centric. It acknowledges the existence of public transit, but falls far short of the standard set by superior regionally-integrated 511 systems like those in San Francisco and Los Angeles which seamlessly integrate traffic and transit information.
A road-centric 511 system may be the right thing for those parts of Maryland that are not particularly transit-friendly (like Carroll County), but it does a real disservice to Greater Baltimore and Greater Washington, where transit services are a legitimate travel option, and where transit information is often hard to find if you don’t already know where to look.
Maryland 511 claims to provide information on public transit, but if you actually call and ask for public transit information, the automated voice will give you two choices: to be transferred to MTA Maryland, or WMATA. Never mind the fact that a great deal of service in the region is provided by agencies other than those two, or that riders may not even know who offers service in their area. The Maryland 511 website is similarly unhelpful.
I’ve previously written about the benefits of a regionally-integrated 511 system, and unfortunately Maryland’s 511 system is a step in the wrong direction. The Maryland State Highway Administration (who operates the system) told the Baltimore Sun that “the system has a modular design that will allow new information streams to be added as they become available”. Yet the reality is that many of these ‘information streams’ are already available. MTA Maryland and many of the DC-area transit agencies (including WMATA) make their schedule data available in open formats, which can be integrated into a 511 system to provide transit schedules and trip planning. SHA doesn’t seem to be to be in any hurry to add transit information, either; the Sun reports that in the next step for Maryland 511, “information on county roads will be added to the mix”, complementing the information on state-maintained roads and highways which the system already provides. No mention is made of better public transit information.