Ottawa — A proposed plan to provide online services for Para Transpo users will mean better service for customers starting at the end of 2019.
Councillor Allan Hubley, Chair of the City’s Transit Commission, and Jean Cloutier, Vice-Chair, today announced the proposed service improvements at City Hall. The Councillors outlined a two-stage project to make booking a Para Transpo trip easier. The full proposal will be detailed in a report to Transit Commission at its meeting on November 20, 2019.
In the first stage, customers would be able to book a Para Transpo trip using an online web form. This would be available by the end of 2019.
The second stage of the project would see OC Transpo working with its software supplier to develop a full suite of online services that would, among other things, allow customers to book, confirm or cancel trips using a computer, laptop, or mobile app on a smart phone, and to track the location of their trip. This full suite of online services would be in place by the end of 2020.
The strong demand for Para Transpo service has sometimes resulted in long phone wait times for customers. Offering online services is expected to reduce call volumes and therefore shorten wait times.
Both the Transit Commission and the Community and Protective Services Committee have this year asked for online services to be introduced as a way to improve the customer experience.
Update on the status of the Para Transpo booking line wait times
Memo from General Manager Transportation Services Department
At the meeting of the Transit Commission on June 20, 2019, staff were asked to provide an update on the status of the Para Transpo booking line wait times and plans for ongoing improvement. This memo responds to that request.
In Q2 2019, the average call wait time for customers calling to make next-day bookings for Para Transpo trips was 65 minutes 55 seconds. In Q3 2019 to date, the average waiting time has improved significantly, to 30 minutes 35 seconds.
While improved, staff do not regard the current wait times as satisfactory and are continuing to work to shorten the wait time experienced by Para Transpo customers. Staff are continuing to work to reduce the average wait time to 15 minutes or less.
Since June, progress has been made in hiring and training additional staff for the customer service centre and in continuing to train existing staff to be ready to take Para Transpo calls. The number of fully-trained customer service representatives has increased from 46 in June to 59 at the current time. A competition for 25 more positions recently closed, and the interview and recruitment process is underway. Our aim is to further increase staffing to reach approximately 100 customer service representatives by the end of 2019.
The position of customer service representative requires applicants that are day-one bilingual and are willing to work shifts in a contact centre. Given that it is an entry-level position that attracts employees with desirable skills, employee retention has been a challenge. The current job market has many opportunities for qualified employees to choose from, which compounds the difficulty of attracting and retaining staff.
Staff have taken, and are currently taking, the following actions to reduce wait time for Para Transpo customers:
- Expanded the capacity of the call queue so that customers would not get busy signals and would not have to call back;
- Created a call-back option so that customers need not remain on hold;
- Continuing to hire and train customer service representatives, as noted earlier; and,
- Expanding work hours at the customer service centre so that Para Transpo administration duties can be completed and non-telephone contacts with customers can be answered at off-peak hours and overnight.
Approximately 50 per cent of trips provided on Para Transpo are subscription bookings. These are regularly-scheduled trips by customers, for which customers do not need to contact staff to book each trip individually; they need only call to cancel or change the trip.
When customers call Para Transpo and no staff are available to receive their call immediately, the customer enters a queue. After approximately two minutes in the queue, the customer receives a prompt asking if they would prefer to be called back rather than wait. The call-back option allows customers to hang up and not actively wait on hold for service; they receive a call back from staff and will not lose their position in the queue. So far in 2019, 76 per cent of Para Transpo customers who called to book a trip and entered the queue have elected to use the call-back option.
Of the remaining 24 per cent of customers who have called, 20 per cent have hung up without requesting a call back – staff understand that most of the time when a customer abandons a call, they intend to call back at another convenient time – and four per cent of customers have elected to wait in the call queue.
Once Para Transpo customers are in contact with OC Transpo staff, the process of booking their trip is quick. The average time to schedule a trip has remained short and consistent over the past year, averaging between two and two-and-a-half minutes.
In June and July 2019, there was an average of 749 calls per day to the Para Transpo reservation lines. There are three lines a customer can call: the booking line, the cancellation line, and the automated cancellation line. Of these, more than 40 per cent were to the cancellation line, which customers use to check for the status of their trip or to cancel a booked trip. The automated cancellation line is currently underused; many of the calls to the cancellation line could be avoided if more customers used the self-serve option. Staff encourage customers to use the automated cancellation line when it can meet their needs.
Work to develop and deliver online services has been underway since Council’s direction earlier this year. Staff have surveyed the online services provided by other transit agencies. A project plan with timelines and funding requirements is being prepared and will be provided to the Transit Commission for consideration at the November meeting of the Transit Commission.
Once online services are available to book a trip, to cancel a trip, and for account administration, staff expect the number of customers who use the phone queue will decline, and the wait times in the queue will be reduced as a result.