Wednesday, July 18, 2012

OC Transpo Fails…again. How about giving riders a say?!

OC Transpo recently postponed the launch of the new smart-card payment system for riders, Presto, from July 1, 2012 to February 2013. This delay is the result of glitches in the system’s software and hardware that have not been fully identified by the system supplier, Metrolinx. Once again bus riders, the most affected party, are left in the dark and disappointed. The City of Ottawa should consider involving its primary stakeholders when it comes to projects like these. The use of social media would be a great platform through which riders could be kept in the loop of the project’s progress, as well as provide valuable insight for the both the supplier and the city along the way.

(You may have wondered what one of these green machines was on your commute today!)
The City of Ottawa contracted with Metrolinx in 2010 for a total project cost of $25 million. OC Transpo began to publicize the introduction of the new system in early April 2012. Advertising including the July 1st launch date, introduction to the Presto system, and website links for further information were placed on several buses and bus stops. The new card readers at the entrance of the bus also drew riders’ attention. 
 A “Family and Friends” pilot for the system began in May with 1,000 participants. On numerous occasions throughout the month the readers on the buses failed to accept riders’ smart-cards. Errors included blank screens, inaccurate balances, and failure to take payment. To the disappointment of riders, the City of Ottawa cancelled the July 1st launch date in late June when it determined Metrolinx was not even able to pinpoint the problems with its product.
On June 21, 2012 the Ottawa Citizen published an article with full details of the negotiations and political background regarding this deal.

So why did it Fail?
The City of Ottawa and Metrolinx engaged in a very high risk project involving a new market and a new and untested version of a product that ultimately failed. Of all possible market-product strategies, this is by far the riskiest approach. The project failed because the timeline of the two desired outcomes, new product and new market, were not managed in unison. Advertising of the new product to the primary stakeholders of this project, bus riders, was undertaken well in advance of the new product being ready for the market.

What should OC Transpo have done?
OC Transpo has a tumultuous relationship with bus riders due to fairly recent events; effective communication is essential to avoid further aggravating this rapport.

 (“Bus driver swearing at rider”: Remember this fiasco?!)

OC Transpo should have used its online presence to create a Presto Forum where riders could have been made active participants of the project. Using existing Social Media (Twitter) to log-in to this forum would have reduced the amount of rogue comments, holding individuals accountable to practical and constructive criticism.  By keeping all stakeholders in the loop, OC Transpo would have been able to avoid major surprises, and riders would have probably understood that this was ultimately the supplier’s product issue, not OC Transpo’s responsibility.

How would the conversation have started?
We’ve all proved that advertising on bus signs work (very few people can claim to have never even glanced at one during their commute); OC Transpo could have begun a Twitter conversation with #PrestoOttawa posted on a bus sign: soon thousands of riders would have been engaged. This conversation would lead all interested riders to the Presto Forum on the OC Transpo website where updates, news, and comments regarding the project would have been welcome. Any delays, such as the one that occurred, would have been announced earlier and progressively keeping riders informed of the step by step process. The use of Social Media in this situation would have avoided for OC Transpo to once again have to fight the uphill battle of regaining riders’confidence. 

Fellow OC Transpo riders, are you also tired of being kept in the dark?