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Dial 511 for ferry information

Tracking system makes travel planning easier

Posted: November 16, 2011 - 12:03am

For many living along southeast Alaska’s archipelago, the marine highway system is a core component of travel. Whether on a relaxing three-day trip to Bellingham or a special fast ferry to Haines for the Southeast Alaska State Fair, keeping track of one’s travel plans is vital to arrange boarding times and schedule pickups, drop-offs and skiff-rides to the cabin. Now a new service by the Alaska Marine Highway System could make this easier.

The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced yesterday it has added marine highway information to the department’s 511 Traveler Information System.

“We encourage people to call 511 from any phone in Alaska and check out the system,” said AMHS Deputy Commissioner Capt. Mike Neussl. “This is an easy way to get real-time ferry information quickly and conveniently.”

Travelers can access the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An alternate number is 800-642-0066.

Upon calling in, an automated female voice leads the caller through a series of options. Callers navigate with touchtone commands or voice commands, and are asked to say “Alaska Marine Highway,” or press “three” to progress. Another automated voice picks up and is the guide through the caller’s final options with the Marine Highway.

Callers can check arrivals, departures or schedules, among other features.

The system will transfer callers to a reservation agent or terminal at any time.

Neussl said the marine highway added the system because “we’re always looking for ways to improve access to the marine highway system.” Ferry terminals in Alaska are not open 24 hours a day so travelers some times have been unable to get the information they need — especially if they do not have Internet access.

“We want to alleviate those concerns, and this is a method of trying to address that,” Neussl said.

Now, with the new system, a single voice-activated phone call can provide most important marine highway information, Neussl said.

The same information found in the 511 system is also kept on the Alaska Marine Highway’s intelligent map at www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/map.shtml. The map has an interface that allows Alaskans to track the location and arrival of ships with expected passengers, or to find the next ship into port for those who just need to get out of town in a hurry.

Click on a ship icon and a pop-up box will appear that shows each vessel’s status, next port and estimated time of arrival.

Neussl said the interactive map has been popular. “I just hope the 511 system will be as much of a success,” he said.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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