Everyone has a bad experience with mass transit, just as everyone has a terrible experience when going on a first date or being interviewed at work. Anything to do with the subway in London, including waiting for an hour at a station during rush hour; buying candy on the way home from work just because you’re already there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more environmentally friendly travel. Why is public transportation so rectangular all of the time? Why should an excellent automobile dealer be able to outperform a terrible one? What factors do you consider while shopping for a used automobile? What impact will your choice have on the rest of your life? Of course, we’ll all be linked into the matrix and travel to work in virtual E-Types. Unless something is done, the perplexing problem of “how to ensure that the trains arrive on time” will continue to disrupt our advance.
For people living in the United Kingdom, there may be a tiny bit of crowd-sourced light at the end of the tunnel. Oleksandr Shumakha is the founder of FixMyTransport, a website that aims to transform the 200-year-old public transportation system in Britain (ahem).
A well-trained crowd
The latest initiative from mySociety, which is a social entrepreneurship charity, is RepairMyTransport. Last year’s blog on FixMyStreet, a mySociety site where users “report, view, and discuss local problems” (mostly potholes), may be remembered by dedicated (or obsessive) readers. According to the Independent, FixMyStreet has caused more than 65,000 street repairs (UK personal injury attorneys must be in real trouble).
FixMyTransport is similar to FixMyStreet, but with bigger wheels. The site’s well-designed, relaxing interface is split between a problem page and a social network. You may register complaints, gain followers, and campaign for new services. Every complaint is published on the website and immediately forwarded to the appropriate transportation provider.
Thousands of dissatisfied and weary travellers have flocked to “FMT,” which was launched in August. Users can fall into one or more of three categories: sensible, passionate, or just plain nasty. Myfanwy Nixon, the communications manager for FixMyTransport, confidently declared that demand would be high: “You only have to go on Twitter during rush hour and search for any of the major transportation companies’ names to discover a huge outcry — we knew that could be better channeled. “
Can we fix it? Er, maybe we can
I’m all for tearing down the façade and expressing oneself, so I applaud FixMyTransport’s role in providing much-needed therapy to traumatized rail passengers. However, the true test will be whether the site is actually able to remedy any issues. Will those “large bad” transport firms react to crowd complaints, or will they dismiss FixMyTransport as Internet chatter? Despite the fact that Myfanwy acknowledges there is a risk of producing “more heat than light,” she also adds: “FixMyTransport isn’t about targeting transport companies.” “If you handle it correctly, it should be a huge opportunity for businesses to figure out where genuine consumer problems are.” Here’s hoping.
Others, like Waze and the (oddly named) Tiramisu, utilize crowdsourcing to deliver real-time, immediate transportation information: where the bus is or which streets are congested. FixMyTransport is a more long-term solution. Problems can be reported after they’ve occurred. A single campaign may take weeks, if not months, to complete. We’ll have to wait and see whether the public will stick with FixMyTransport for the long haul.
According to reports, the FixMyTransport staff is interested in expanding to other nations. Is it time for someone to create a Finnish version? Maybe we could finally finish the Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel. Now that’s something I’d call crowd power in action.