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COMMENT: OC Transpo needs to start tweeting all bus cancellations

An OC Transpo bus on Wellington Street. Photo/Devyn Barrie

If you’re a regular transit rider, you’re probably familiar with the Twitter handle @OCTranspoLive. It’s the main way the transit service communicates trip cancellations and disruptions.

What you probably didn’t know, because OC Transpo doesn’t really mention it anywhere, is that the Twitter account is also highly incomplete and somewhat misleading to passengers who rely on it.

As the Ottawa Citizen highlighted on Monday, more than 6,000 bus trips were canceled over a 29-day period from February to March of this year. Six-thousand two-hundred and eighty-four, to be exact. On the flip side, the trip completion rate was 97 per cent during this period.

Of those cancellations, the Citizen showed only a very small amount of disruptions wind up being tweeted. On one day only about 13 per cent of cancellations were tweeted — 30 out of 231. Pat Scrimgeour, an OC Transpo director, told the Citizen that’s because staff are sometimes too busy to tweet everything.

This issue was highlighted in 2017 as well by Metro Ottawa, when reporter Ryan Tumilty monitored the account to report all the cancellations it tweeted. Scrimgeour told Metro that while they don’t tweet everything, “we structure it (so) that it captures most of the ones that matter most to customers.”

So the account doesn’t tweet everything and, in fact, seems to fall very short on reflecting what’s actually happening in the transit system in real time.

While OC Transpo prioritizes “important” disruptions, the Toronto Transit Commission appears to take a more holistic approach.

“We tweet everything from major delays and disruptions to minor diversions in real time,” said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green, when asked how detailed the TTC’s alerts Twitter is. You can quibble over what they consider a “minor” diversion, but that certainly seems to be a higher bar than what OC Transpo is shooting for.

If OC Transpo can’t keep up with the number of cancellations to tweet, then can it not hire more staff to handle the workload? Is there really no way to automate this in the year of our lord 2019?

One of the most annoying things about OC Transpo (which I have personally experienced) is when the account tweets a cancellation at the last minute before or even after the route is scheduled. This is completely unhelpful.

While it’s useful to know, this information is most handy before you get to the stop — especially in the dead of the winter. Granted, they can hardly plan ahead for cancellations, but it would be nice to see them get the info out early more than once in a blue moon. Many of these tweets come entirely too late. Is that a function of staff being too busy, or is there a communication problem causing this?

On an average weekday, 320,000 people are riding on OC Transpo. It’s about time they start getting accurate and useful information on whether their bus is coming. OC Transpo needs to step up its game.


Devyn Barrie

Devyn Barrie is the publisher and editor of OttawaStart.com. He currently studies math and physics at the University of Ottawa, and holds a diploma in journalism from Algonquin College.