May 31, 2013 By Sarah Rich
When Albuquerque, N.M., Mayor Richard Berry came into office in 2009, he was particularly curious about one part of city operations: the breakdown of incoming calls to the city’s 311 center. To his surprise, results showed that almost half of them asked the same question: Where’s my bus?
Each call to the 311 center costs the city $1.86, and with hundreds of calls per week made solely to question public bus arrival times, Berry decided that economically, it made sense for Albuquerque to find a more cost-effective way to provide that information.
To reduce 311 calls and provide bus arrival information in a cheaper format, the city’s IT department partnered with AT&T to launch Text 2 Ride in February – a free text message-based service for citizens to find out when their bus is expected to arrive at a particular stop. (User text message fees apply.)
The team harnessed bus schedule data through an automated system, which resulted in a reduction in 311 calls and potential savings of more than $170,000.
“If we can use technology and big data to save taxpayer resources, that’s a win for everyone,” Berry said.
Using AT&T’s Global Smart Messaging Suite, the cloud-based text message service allows users on any cell phone, smartphone or not, to text the number 2-RIDE (2-7433) to receive information. In addition to texting the number, riders must provide in the text message their current 4-digit bus stop number followed by a space and then the route number. Within 15 seconds, the rider receives a text message stating when the next two buses are scheduled to arrive at that stop.
Last year, nearly 13 million commuters rode Albuquerque's bus transit system, ABQ Ride, Berry said, adding that he wanted to make riding public buses in the city easier for commuters and tourists.
Currently the service is still in a pilot phase and connects to 58 of ABQ Ride’s bus stops, but Berry says the city’s goal is to connect all of Albuquerque’s public bus stops – a number ranging in the hundreds – by the end of 2014. Upfront costs for the text service totaled to $17,600, so the city expects to see a return on investment in the near future.
Also in the future, the city would like to harness other data from the 311 center’s incoming calls to develop other useful tools, Berry said.
The city is currently focusing on other efforts to embrace technology and transparency through a series of new city apps, and through the development of its transparency website ABQ View.
Main photo: Albuquerque, N.M., Mayor Richard Berry meets with international representatives to discuss transparency and open data in government. Courtesy of the city of Albuquerque.