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Plan to install local personal traffic service hits roadblock; regional system considered


A plan to offer Baltimore-area motorists personalized, real-time traffic reports by phone, pager or computer has been shelved, at least for the next year.

Instead of opening a Baltimore office of the SmarTraveler service, which is available to drivers around Washington, the company is waiting and may take a more regional approach that would serve drivers in both cities and beyond, said David Fierro, a vice president of SmartRoute Systems in Orlando, Fla.

SmarTraveler is available in 83 cities.

Motorists who use it can call the service from the road to check on potential snags and report traffic tie-ups, they can access the information from their computers, and, in a growing number of cities, they are being notified by the company when traffic problems crop up on their usual routes.

If a driver's route home is mired in traffic, for instance, he can learn about it before leaving the office.

Plans to open an office in Baltimore were put on hold after SmartRoute Systems, which owns the service, was acquired by Westwood One in November.

"Obviously, we'd love to approach this on a regional basis," Fierro said. "Our experience is that they work much better that way because motorists are not so geographically limited."

If such an approach is taken, it would probably be similar to SmarTraveler's service in Cincinnati, which serves parts of Kentucky and Indiana as well.

The Washington office opened three years ago. Its Web site gets tens of thousands of hits a day. From it, motorists can get up-to-the-minute traffic information on specific roads, and get a live view from traffic cameras set up by the Maryland and Virginia departments of transportation, as well as the District of Columbia.

The service is free for motorists, but custom options like the paging service have a fee.

Such services are expected to become more popular in the next few years, as more sophisticated pagers, cell phones, electronic organizers and car computer services become linked with traffic monitoring systems. The increased use of fiber-optic cables, electronic sensors and video cameras that deliver information directly from the road also is expected to spur demand for personal traffic services.

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