The Headache of Online Services

A few weeks ago, Roy Wiseman blogged about how, despite the best efforts of many governments, and although an online option may be available to them, people are still standing in line to receive their government services.

“Instead of hiding, let’s proudly promote ‘modern government’,” he wrote, “taking full advantage of the cost-saving opportunities (and increased convenience) provided by modern technology.”

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. But if governments want their online services to succeed, they need to make sure the services are as good as – or better than – the services people will receive in person.

The Ottawa Citizen ran an article last week that, to my estimation, perfectly encapsulates why people sometimes prefer to go to the counter rather than bother with the online option.

It seems that OC Transpo is having trouble getting their customers to reload their Presto cards online. The whole purpose of the Presto program is to help reduce lineups at OC Transpo kiosks at the end of every month, when people are looking to buy new bus passes. With Presto, people can reload their cards from the comfort of their own homes, and even set their cards to auto-load when their funds are getting low.

In theory, it’s a great idea. In practice, there are a few hitches.

For example, when I purchased my Presto card two weeks ago, I loaded it for six trips. After taking a few trips, I registered my card online. The balance on my account read $2.72, meaning I still had one more trip to take; yet when I boarded the bus the next morning, the Presto reader refused to take it. As it turns out, the balance on the website was incorrect, and since my registration was still processing, I could not use the overdraft option that’s available to registered users. Thank heavens I had some spare bus tickets with me!

And then there’s the part where loading it online means a 24- to 48-hour wait until the funds can be used. Sure, if I load it well in advance, I’m fine – but I can be a forgetful creature at times, and having to wait two whole days to use my card after loading it just isn’t worth the trouble, especially when there’s no delay when I get it loaded at an OC Transpo kiosk.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Presto is a great idea. It could just use a little work. Imagine how much easier it would be if we could all just load our Presto cards from the office or our mobile phones and be good to go right away!


Amy Allen
Amy Allen is a staff writer with Canadian Government Executive magazine. You can connect with her at amya@netgov.ca.

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