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Beating the Traffic for Free


Subscription traffic services have seen sharp increases in usage recently, and for good reason. These traffic services will warn you of accidents, construction, and other delays which may impact your route. Most will look at the significance of the delay and determine if an alternate route might become faster due to a delay on your current route.

Without a doubt these services are worth the cost if you frequently drive in congested areas. But what if you only infrequently drive in congested areas and don’t want to spend lots of money on the equipment and traffic subscription? A combination of online traffic services, proximity alerts, and possibly a Bluetooth compatible GPS can provide a free alternative. Here is how.

Recently I took a very long trip through the entire east cost of the U.S.. I travelled through about ten large cities where traffic congestion could have easily made for a very frustrating trip. I decided to put free tools to my use and see if I could effectively get the traffic information I needed, when I needed it, for free.

The first thing I did was to setup an account at traffic.com. They monitor traffic in the congested areas I would be driving through. Your account will allow you to setup twenty “drives”, which are saved routes you anticipate driving. I setup one drive for each of the cities I would be driving through as well as one alternate route in each city.

The service allows you to receive the traffic information in a number of ways, you van view it on the website, get alerts via text message, or receive alerts via voice-mail. You can also call a special number and listen to your alerts directly.

Before starting the drive on the first morning I took a quick peek at the website and noticed there were not any significant delays along my route…. yet. Then here is where the magic happens. Using the Custom POI feature on my GPS, I created a “favorite” about ten miles ahead of where I anticipated traffic might become an issue entering each city. I also created a category called “traffic check” for each of these locations to be stored in. The point I picked was just before where my alternate route split off from my intended route.

Then I set a “warning” on my GPS to alert me when I was within five miles of any POI in my “traffic check” category. Further, I assigned the traffic.com phone number to each POI. Here is how it plays out.

About fifteen miles before entering a congested area my GPS would alert me that I was close to a “traffic check” POI. I could then tap the screen and have it dial the POI (the traffic.com service) via the Bluetooth connection between my phone and GPS. A voice prompt would ask me which drive I wanted a report for and I would speak the city name to listen to the report.

If it sounded like it would be smooth sailing I would continue on the current route. If a delay was expected I would then ask for the alternate route in that city and listen to that traffic report and make a final routing decision.

There were a couple of locations I traveled through which I thought might become congested, but traffic.com didn’t serve those areas. In this case I would still create a “proximity alert” about ten miles before the area, however instead of dialing traffic.com I would switch my car stereo to a radio station which broadcasted traffic information every few minutes. I would name the custom POI the frequency of the radio station to have the GPS display the frequency for me.

Overall the system worked nearly flawlessly for me. The traffic information I received was right on time, current, accurate, and although somewhat timely to setup saved me at least one significant delay I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

This isn’t a perfect solution and people who drive in congested areas frequently would be much better off subscribing to a traffic service which will automatically notify you of delays without any pre-planning. But for the occasional city driver using traffic.com’s services along with custom POI and proximity alerts functions from your GPS you can save some cash and receive good traffic information.

6 Responses

  1. […] We’ve previously mentioned how much we love traffic.com services so we are excited to hear that Garmin has selected traffic.com to provide real time traffic services for the Garmin Mobile 20 software. The Garmin Mobile 20 software works on select smartphones running Windows Mobile, Treo smartphones, and some Nokia smartphones. […]

  2. This is an inspired piece of GPS nerdery. Can’t wait to try it out on the nuvi 360.

    BWeb - July 2nd, 2006
  3. […] Traffic.com announced today that they have expanded into ten additional cities in the USA bringing the total cities covered to 50. The new areas are Albany, NY;Birmingham, AL; Greensboro, NC; Indianapolis, IN; Louisville, KY;Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Tulsa, OK; andTucson, AZ. Drivers in those areas can now use the method we outlined for using custom POI alerts and traffic.com services together. We’ve heard from a few people who are using our technique. “Smart growth, strategic partnerships and superior technology havekept us at the forefront of the traffic information industry,” said Robert N. Verratti, chief executive officer, Traffic.com. “Reachingthe 50-metropolitan area milestone is another manifestation of ourleadership and consumer service offerings.” […]

  4. […] Big news in mapping and traffic reporting systems today as NAVTEQ has purchased Traffic.com. The deal is reportedly for about $179 million in cash plus stock. This looks to be a fantastic move for NAVTEQ as Traffic.com provides […]

  5. you wrote: I could then tap the screen and have it dial the POI (the traffic.com service) via the Bluetooth connection between my phone and GPS.
    question: what phone number do you set up ? i didn’t see any phone number listed on the traffic.com

    michael arnoldi - August 10th, 2008
  6. 866 MY-TRAFC

    Tim - August 10th, 2008

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