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2007 01 15
Bloggers Show A Better Way
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Getting free advice on improving service is certainly in the TTC's best interest.

Can Internet bloggers make the TTC more efficient while improving the quality of Toronto's streets? City councillor and new Toronto Transit Commission chairman Adam Giambrone thinks so.

This week, Giambrone opened the musty halls of Toronto's largest public institution to the fresh air of citizen input. The city's cloistered bureaucracies may never be the same. How did it happen?

Urban activists in Toronto's Ward 18 joined together last year to create a plan for development in their community. They argued that the city's planning department and the Ontario Municipal Board did not understand the unique needs of the ward.

The group Active 18 used the Internet to promote and organize its cause. They got noticed. Much of their success is credited to that increasingly influential digital medium. Giambrone, as councillor of Ward 18, saw first-hand that the group had a grasp of the community's needs equal to or better than the city's own staff.

A new, post-Jane Jacobs era in community influence at City Hall was born. Information, after all, is power.

So what does this have to do with bloggers?

Jump forward to New Year's Day. This columnist's blog, http://www.readingtoronto.com, issued a challenge to the new chairman. TTC patrons were fed up with the poorly designed, ineffective TTC Web site. Would he listen to and act on their suggestions on how to make the site more effective? To Giambrone's credit, he said yes.

The response was immediate. Major Toronto blogs spacing.ca, torontoist.com and blogto.com issued a call to their readers: "Tell us how you would improve the TTC's site?" Within hours, bloggers both vented their frustrations with the existing site and brainstormed ways to make it better.

"As a transit user who recently moved to Toronto from London

(UK)," a blogger named Lavinia wrote, "I find the TTC Web site to be an appalling disgrace." Her comment captured the general mood of other TTC.ca users.

"I have to say I was totally shocked by how poor this site is for a major North American urban centre's transportation Web site," Dave joined in. However, their criticism was quickly followed by suggestions on how to make the Web site right. Their voices made a mark.

Tens of thousands of transit users have read or heard about the challenge. To date, about 200 people have offered suggestions online. Many have contacted City Hall directly. Most are positive.

Giambrone says it is in the city's best interest to take these ideas and use them to improve the Web site. After all, it would cost the city thousands of dollars in TTC user focus groups to get a fraction of this input.

How will a more effective TTC Web site change the city's public realm for the better? Giambrone says, "There are no new roads proposed for the next 30 years in Toronto ? Every subway line keeps about 18 highway lanes out of our city."

He argues that increasing TTC ridership will make Toronto a more attractive, environmentally sustainable place to live.

Here is where the Web site can help. Millions of people go to the TTC site every month -- most looking for route information. A site that will tell them quickly and accurately what subway and bus to use to get to a destination will increase ridership. It is that simple.

With major cities around the world having long embraced effective transportation Web sites, why has the TTC allowed itself to fall so far behind? Giambrone says lack of funding was part of the problem.

Another part was the TTC's very narrow view of its operation. According to Giambrone, the TTC's management found it difficult to shift gears from an organization concerned with quantity to one concerned with quality.

The user experience, as we all know, is a critical part of building ridership among people who can afford to drive cars. Make the TTC convenient and comfortable, and fewer cars will use our roads during rush hours. Everyone understands this.

We have come through the age where public policy was driven, so to speak, by the economics of the automobile. The new age is driven by the economics of information. Toronto can be a leader or a follower in this new era. Happily, Toronto's new generation of politicians seems to want the former.

Toronto bloggers will follow the issue. A new TTC Web site is expected in the summer.

This story is also publish in today's National Post. Pick up a copy. ;)
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 01/15 at 05:21 PM

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