Phoenix Transit Rolls Out New Voice Service

The high cost of gas is driving many Phoenix-area residents to take the bus, and a new speech-enabled service is making it easier for them to get around.

Valley Metro Transit, the authority that runs 81 bus routes throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, just added an automated trip-planning feature to its information hotline. The 24-hour service, which uses speech recognition technologies from LogicTree Corp. of Bowie, Md., lets callers get detailed bus routes, schedules, itineraries, and more, by entering landmarks, intersections, or street names into the system using their voices.

In addition to trip planning, Valley Metro also uses LogicTree's speech application to provide general information about its buses, ride-share and dial-a-ride programs, and pending light rail service; and to provide detailed stop-by-stop and route-by-route schedules so that a caller can find out when the next bus is due at his stop.

"In order for us to do what we wanted, we had to go with speech recognition," says Scott Wisner, Valley Metro's customer service manager. "There are just too many street names and options for a DTMF system.

"We needed a system that was very transit-specific, could deal with a very detailed city and street network, and would be able to recognize street names and landmarks," he continues.

Valley Metro began rolling out the system in December 2005 and implemented it in three phases. Previously, it had a very limited call center application that offered a very limited menu. "We doubled our call volume in the last few years, and our old system couldn't do a lot," Wisner admits.

The current system handles almost 6,000 calls a day; about 55 percent of the call volume is related to trip planning, while 45 percent is for the Next Bus service. Automation has taken between 30 percent and 50 percent of the call load away from live agents.

"I believe speech recognition will be the wave of the future for the transit industry," Wisner says.

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