by Alison Weiss
The city of Victoria, capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia, is a beautiful place. One of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, the former British fort and trading outpost boasts a skyline filled with stately Victorian architecture and a view of Olympic National Park (just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the US state of Washington). Residents enjoy a quality of life that’s among the best in the world—rivaling Geneva, Switzerland and topping World Happiness Index powerhouses Copenhagen, Denmark, and Melbourne, Australia.
Location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Industry: Public transportation
Revenue: CA$261 million in 2013
Partner: Eclipsys Solutions
Oracle products: Oracle WebCenter, Oracle Database, Oracle Linux
Vice President of Operations and Chief Operations Officer
Length of tenure: Four years
Education: Bachelor of Commerce, University of Victoria
Personal quote/mantra: “If it is worth doing, do it to the best of your ability. Then strive to do it a little better the next time.”
But Victoria lives on an island served by a single north-south highway. With an economy driven by industries as diverse as high technology and forestry, and the major commercial capital of Vancouver sitting only 100 kilometers to the north, moving people and goods around the greater Victoria area is a priority—and a challenge.
Brian Anderson (left), Vice President of Operations and Chief Operations Officer, BC Transit
Maureen Sheehan (right), director of marketing and communication for BC Transit, analyzed customer behavior to create a modern user experience for bctransit.com.
Mobile access was a key requirement for the newly enhanced BC Transit website.
BC Transit’s fleet consists of more than 1,000 vehicles.
The fleet includes the first double-decker buses to regularly operate in North America.
Brian Anderson (far right) visits the BC Transit fleet.
It’s a challenge that the leadership at BC Transit is familiar with. Faced with serving diverse public transit needs—connecting commuters to their offices in Victoria, tourists to the ferries that sail from the Swartz Bay terminal for Vancouver, and mountain bikers to the wild western community of Sooke—BC Transit plays a critical role for citizens of Vancouver Island. There is one thing this diverse ridership has in common: a desire to easily find the right transit information when they are on the move so they can get where they want to go in the most convenient way.
“Our objective is to offer outstanding public transit service to connect people and communities,” says Brian Anderson, vice president of operations and chief operations officer at BC Transit. “Years ago, customers would go to great lengths to find out schedules or routes, but as technology has improved they aren’t willing to do this anymore. They just want quick access to accurate travel data. Our job is to make that as simple as possible.”
So, BC Transit IT and business staff decided to work with Oracle Platinum Partner Eclipsys Solutions to implement Oracle WebCenter as the platform for a modern, dynamic, mobile-enabled website designed to put customers first. Launched in late 2014, the new website delivers a modern experience with responsive design, making personalized transit content easy to view on a mobile device. It offers quick trip planning, better access to schedule data, and convenient travel alerts. It also includes social media capabilities to encourage interactive feedback from the public.
“We want to get people from where they are to where they want to go—safely, reliably, and efficiently—by providing the right service at the right time,” says Anderson, who spearheaded the website enhancement project. “This was the impetus for improving our website with mobility and other functionality.”Community-Oriented Transit
BC Transit provides transit services in 130 communities and 83 different municipalities. Riders in urban and suburban communities access conventional fixed-route transit services using double-decker buses and minibuses, while custom door-to-door and dial-a-ride services using vans, minibuses, and taxis are available for passengers with disabilities. Paratransit services, using vans, minibuses, and taxis with flexible schedules and routes, serve rural communities.
Because the organization serves so many communities and works with so many local government partners and contracted service partners, it uses a shared services model to economize and streamline the marketing, planning, and scheduling for myriad public transit services.
Clearly, BC Transit is doing something right. Over the last two decades, ridership has more than doubled from 21 million trips annually to 51 million in 2013. But until recently the BC Transit website provided little information to facilitate travel. It hadn’t been significantly overhauled in more than a decade and lacked mobile and social media functionality. According to comScore’s 2013 Mobile Future in Focus report, 51 percent of respondents access maps from mobile devices, making it among the top mobile media activities for smartphone and tablet users. To stay pointed in the right direction, BC Transit had to deliver the information services riders need to effectively navigate the transit system.
When BC Transit’s old website was originally designed 12 years ago, having a customer service focus wasn’t even on the radar. The website functioned as a catchall for transit information and concentrated on the corporate side of the business. So, it was possible to find annual reports and service plans, but it wasn’t easy for riders to use the site to plan a trip. Old infrastructure slowed the site. Updating content required a programmer. If there was an incident affecting a bus line, sometimes it took 24 hours for an alert to post on the website—far past the time the information would be useful. And, so much time was spent keeping the site afloat that the BC Transit staff members were only able to gather basic metrics. They weren’t able to take advantage of analytics to drive service improvements.
We want to get people from where they are to where they want to GO—safely, reliably, and efficiently—by providing the right service at the right time.”–Brian Anderson, Vice President of Operations and Chief Operations Officer, BC Transit
Erinn Pinkerton, executive director of business development at BC Transit, is responsible for the team that manages the BC Transit website. She observes that until recently, the public didn’t expect websites to do more than provide information.
“But today, our site is one of the main ways our customers communicate with BC Transit, and it’s almost always the first tool that people use to plan their trips,” Pinkerton says. “We recognize that transit in BC is more than the bus on the road. It’s an end-to-end travel experience from the time people look up schedules, to buying fares, to reaching their destinations.”The Customer Service Journey
From the onset, Anderson wanted everyone to see the project as part of a longer journey to improve the value of the BC Transit website to offer better service to customers. Maureen Sheehan, director of marketing and communications at BC Transit, who was the website project manager, reports that considerable time was spent analyzing BC Transit’s customer behavior to determine how the website user experience could be improved. “We have many different types of customers—from persons with disabilities, to millennials, to older persons. We also consider all our government partners to be customers,” she says. “So we looked at how we collaborated with everyone and what we could do better.”
Next, an advisory committee was established, made up of approximately 20 people from the public and different departments and organizations across the province. The group collaborated for 18 months to identify functional requirements, determine priorities, and assess technology options. Ultimately, Oracle WebCenter was selected as the website platform because it offers an appealing web infrastructure, flexible content management tools, and the ability to easily enable web-based and mobile communications. BC Transit leaders also decided to work with Ontario, Canada–based Eclipsys Solutions because its experts proposed a turnkey Oracle-on-Oracle solution with Oracle WebCenter utilizing Oracle Database and Oracle virtualization, as well as Oracle servers and storage. In addition to helping with the implementation process, Eclipsys—with services from partner Yellow Pencil, based in Alberta, Canada—is hosting, maintaining, and supporting BC Transit’s Oracle WebCenter implementation.
One of the most important goals was for the new website to incorporate mobility. Eclipsys and Yellow Pencil experts worked with graphic designers to give the site an overall intuitive and consistent layout. Then, they took advantage of Oracle WebCenter’s flexibility, scalability, and built-in support for the most-popular mobile operating systems to ensure that the site can scale up or down. This responsive design makes the site easily navigable and presents information clearly and concisely even on a small, 2.5-inch screen.
“That was more challenging than we expected,” says Anderson. “But at the end of the day, Eclipsys did a wonderful job. They hit it out of the park, and our website is one that I’d hold up to any in terms of responsiveness and design.”
To make sure travel experiences in all the communities BC Transit serves are similar—while still balancing the unique needs of each location—Oracle WebCenter’s content management capabilities were put to good use to create 83 different personalized landing pages—one for each of the municipalities under the BC Transit umbrella. Rather than having to depend on programmers to design and code web pages, using the platform’s library of reusable components made it easy to dynamically create pages that feature BC Transit branding but also incorporate unique aspects of each community. Now, when a customer logs in, the website uses automatic location recognition technology to guide riders to their local BC Transit system page.
It was also critical to accommodate all the different ways customers plan travel. So the website was designed to enable a person to access scheduling information via a visual map, an online schedule, a trip planner, or even a detailed Riders Guide that can be downloaded as a PDF and printed out. The website also offers easy navigation and high contrast and visibility to accommodate riders with cognitive or physical disabilities.Rave Reviews
BC Transit’s new website went live in December 2014, and feedback from the public has been extremely positive. Customers find it much more welcoming and personalized to have a local transit home page, and trip planning using their mobile phones or tablets is a huge improvement. They also find it helpful to access travel alerts and to subscribe to alerts via e-mail for specific bus routes.
The new website also features embedded social media feeds, and this is encouraging conversation and connection with customers on a daily basis. In fact, BC Transit has more than 7,000 Twitter followers, and it received more than 1,000 user inquiries and requests from the public in the first few months the website was in operation.BC Transit
|Number of BC Transit customer trips annually in 2013|
|Number of different municipalities served by BC Transit|
Pinkerton and her team appreciate that content management is so easy and streamlined. They can write a document or create a video and simply drop it into the content management system and decide dynamically where it will be posted and consumed. The staff can make updates from anywhere, and they no longer have to send in content or change requests to programmers. Creating travel alerts is so easy and involves so little training that operating partners from all 83 municipalities can assist with generating alerts and feeds—improving the accuracy of information on the website.
“Today, we’re confident we’re providing the right information that is timely and accurate on our website for our customers,” says Pinkerton. “We want the public to know that the BC Transit website is the first and best place to go for transit information and that it is easily accessible from mobile devices.”Big Bounce
Now that the website is more efficient and providing the mobility and social media features the public demands, BC Transit senior staff members are embracing metrics and beginning to move into the world of actual data intelligence. To better serve customers, BC Transit hopes to soon take advantage of big data to see what people are searching for and who is using the site. Currently, they are using Google Analytics for baseline reporting to reveal who is coming to the website and to demonstrate to senior leadership that the website project is generating successful results. They can already tell that more users are accessing the website via mobile devices, and that website page bounce rates are increasing.
“The bounce rate metric is good news,” says Sheehan. “It means that people are quickly finding the information they need and leaving. It means we’ve been successful in making the new website more mobile-friendly and efficient.”
Looking ahead, in spring 2015 BC Transit expects to launch The Hub, which is based on Oracle WebCenter and will serve internal BC Transit employees and associated partners. It will have some of the same look and feel of the customer-facing website, but it will feature organizational charts and contact information, collaborative spaces and reports, an awards and recognition section, and more.
“Oracle WebCenter is helping us live our motto of connecting people and communities,” says Anderson. “But we are also connecting people with the right information, no matter where they are in their travel journey.”
Photography by Shutterstock