Free TTC Mobile iPhone app @ bit.ly/ttcmobile (Support)

My email to advisory.panel@ttc.ca #ttcpanel

March 14th, 2010

The TTC should do more to listen to city creative-types and actively encourage their participation in building “the better way”. Whether accessibility gurus like Joe Clark on What’s wrong with signage at the TTC?, designers like those who made the buttons from Spacing Magazine, to developer contributions like myttc.ca’s trip planner or my own little free TTC iPhone app (which without any publicity beyond being free on the App Store and offering simply a mobile version of ttc.ca formatted for iPhone, has already gotten 11,427 downloads in 90 days, or 1 download every 11 minutes) — what we’re all looking for is some sense that the TTC is listening, that there’s a community here, and that the TTC can acknowledge our contributions as valid, even if all it means is a mention in some minutes at a meeting, or a link off ttc.ca to third-party “unsupported” sites.

Now ideally, there would be changes made based on our contributions: Signage could be reviewed/improved, buttons could be sold at stations, myttc.ca could be compared with the official trip planner, my iPhone app could inspire a mobile version of ttc.ca or an official app (I’d freely share my code if anyone asked, or work on a new better app). As I wrote in my blog, the San Francisco system actually supported a community effort at 511.org and two years later bought the website for its own use and encouraged its further development. In fact, SF Muni even has a Labs website with experimental features like an API for live next-bus information. Other transit systems and cities are providing contests (with cash prizes or passes) to encourage indie developers to make apps, like New York City, Edmonton, etc. Supporting developers and designers, indie creative thinkers, is important, and something the TTC doesn’t do– beyond the occasional public art installation bid. Why does everything have to cost money at the TTC to be valued?

In addition, the TTC doesn’t have enough customer support people. From my attempts to gain information on the lack of updates to the TTC’s official release of open developer data (at toronto.ca/open, hasn’t been updated in 6 months despite many service changes and inaccuracies), I used the feedback form at ttc.ca, then after 7 days, emailed followup@ttc.ca and still waited further for a response. Phoning the TTC Info line revealed that there are only two people to answer 300 emails/day. That’s why there’s a followup system, and why such a system is dysfunctional. Then add to this my frustration at not getting an email response directly from anyone working within TTC marketing or IT (though I did manage to get a phone number when I explicitly requested one), and I just feel as if a disconnect is maintained between customers who want to help improve the system, and the people in charge of doing so.

By comparison, at YRT, they’ve 3-5 people to manage a much smaller volume of emails and calls, and yet can promise a 3 day turnaround. And unlike at the TTC, at YRT my request was responded to by actual systems employees, such that when I discovered a security flaw in their trip planner, I was able to email and notify the right people by the next business day, something I was unable to do when the TTC had the same flaw.

YRT also has their routing data (though not live GPS data) available for programmers in GTFS format. The TTC doesn’t, unless you count the efforts of the myttc.ca folks (which hasn’t been updated since last Summer, unfortunately). I’m not even sure the TTC itself has GPS data for every stop, or numbered every stop, though I do know myttc.ca is close — and currently working on adding station-accessible entrance routing to their database. Myself, I’m getting requests everyday for offline data, GPS-enabled routing, and more– but the reason I made my app in the first place was to show accurate data and how can data be accurate if it doesn’t come directly from the TTC? I’m in a catch-22 though, as the data from the TTC is inaccurate, sometimes even on ttc.ca, and so who actually has accurate data then, if not the TTC? And why can’t us customers help the TTC with its data and services for our fellow travelers?

All we’re looking for is a little respect. Why is openness, open data, such a foreign concept at the TTC?


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