opengovernment

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How hard is it to find out if Fredericton has free parking on Easter Monday?

Posted by on 11 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

Don’t work for the government? Bet you had to go to work on Easter Monday. If you’re a Fredericton Transit user, you’ll have to find your own way in. If you have access to a car, you’ll drive in. Now, the question is, when you get downtown, will you have to put any money in the meter?

A quick check of the city’s website should provide an answer, right?

Well, not quite.

Let’s go and have a look at the city’s homepage:

You don’t see anything about city services on the holiday at all, except for a notice about the garbage being picked up on the holidays. So if the garbage collectors don’t get it off, what about the parking enforcement people? Let’s go check the parking section of their web page:

Information about all kinds of things relating to parking, but nothing about what days are free. Now, let’s use the search box on the top right corner of the page:

What will that bring us?

Oh, how about this?

Hmm, not promising. Maybe this search doesn’t work like Google:

And we get:

That isn’t the most helpful search results page. Instead of the page title, they show the file names. That probably wasn’t intentional, but maybe next time they should go with the second lowest bidder. Still, at least this way we’re warned in advance before we click on a PDF file.

As you can kind of tell, the top results are a series of press releases relating to hours around Christmas. The others are irrelevant. Let’s just try one more search before we give up:

Which gets us:

Some more results. Clicking on each one and reading it fully gives us our answer. Yes, it’s the one that I circled in red. I only found that after clicking through all the other ones. Let’s click on it and see what it says:

There you have it. That’s how “easy” it is to find out information about parking in downtown Fredericton.

Sorry about all the pictures, I hope you weren’t reading this on your phone on a pay-as-you-go data plan.

Review of GoFred bus tracker (beta)

Posted by on 09 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment, Reviews, transit

Fredericton Transit just released a bus-tracker mobile app for Android. (or did they, as a recently printed Gleaner article implied it was CGI’s idea). It’s still in beta, and completely unfit for general use as they don’t have GPS tracking available for every bus in the fleet. However, it’s a great example of how open data can be used.

All of the screenshots below were copied from the Android Market page as Android phones don’t have the ability to take screenshots (unless they are rooted).

The opening screen implies that this app won’t just be for bus tracking. Hopefully we’ll see some more services on there soon.

 

Here we have the main menu. The bus tracker is the important part of the app, the route planner just takes you to your phone’s built-in Google Maps Transit navigation service, the schedule just goes to the city’s web site.

 

Here, we can choose which route to track. For a really good test, you can click “all routes”

 

And here’s the main screen. The first issue that jumps out is that we see the fleet numbers in the bus icons. This is because they are getting their data from the dispatch system. The fleet numbers are very useful for dispatchers, but not that good for the general public. If you click on one of the icons (like you see above), you’ll see the route numbers listed. Trouble is, as in the example above, you see two route numbers and no direction (N or S). If you’re waiting for a specific bus, you won’t actually know which one is yours until it is close enough for you to see the destination sign.

Great start, but needs some work.

Future plans?

At this time, nothing has been divulged. One hopes that they are able to fix some of the issues above before they go out of beta. For that to happen, they would have to have access to the dispatch schedules to determine which actual run the bus is doing. From there, they could determine how long you have to wait for the next bus at any particular location. That would allow for a phone (text or IVR) interface as well as other innovations such as display signs.

It would also be nice if they indicated the accessibility level of the bus. They could display an icon for a low-floor bus.

Once that is complete, the next step would be to open the data so it could be used by anyone. Don’t want to support an obsolete phone platform? No problem, let someone else do it instead. Want to let a business make their own transit info sign? No problem!

It’s a great start, hopefully the momentum continues and allows the app to get better.

Update: iOS version now on iTunes

Tax funded survey keeps Fredericton City Council incumbents in power

Posted by on 15 Sep 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment

Municipal elections for Fredericton will be held in May of 2012. The city recently held an “attitude survey” where they tallied up people’s opinions of what’s right and wrong about City operations. That survey would be very valuable to anyone running for council. Having access to the data would help a candidate form a platform.

So who has access to this data? The 13 elected members of council, and nobody else. How fair is that? They get to see the full thing where the rest of us get to see a press release that’s full of spin.

It makes it difficult for new people to get involved in municipal politics when the people at the top make it hard to get in.


Disclaimer: The author of this blog is not running for council in 2012.

Failure to engage: Fredericton’s 2011 Budget

Posted by on 20 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

So how was Fredericton’s 2011 budget more open and transparent than the 2010 budget?

They pre-released details of the water & sewer portion of the budget. That’s it. That’s the big difference.

If you look at the minutes of the 2010 budget from last year, you’ll see a very detailed presentation that included line items for each department. Why couldn’t they release this before the vote for 2011?

If city council wants to be open and accountable, they actually need to be open and accountable. Fredericton’s city council has a major perception problem where people believe that it built up a giant wall so they can hide the incompetence of city employees. Whether this is actually true or not, is irrelevant because perception often matters more than truth.

Maybe they’ll get it right next year? It will be an election year after all. (no, I’m not running in 2012, stop asking). It’s time to get serious about openness and transparency

Fredericton’s openish budget process: Water & Sewer

Posted by on 06 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment

For the 2011 budget, Fredericton City Hall has promised to be more transparent. While we wait for the bulk of the budget to be released, they gave us a tease by publishing a somewhat vague PowerPoint presentation about the water and sewer system. Although this transparency is a start, it doesn’t provide the level of details or engagement that people are beginning to expect. The only avenue for feedback is the link to the list of mayor and councilor addresses.

To test this engagement, I came up with the following questions and sent them to the entire council:

  1. Why does the City of Fredericton have a water & sewer commission as well as the FAPCC? Is there much overhead in having these two commissions?
  2. The presentation states that there is a $119M infrastructure deficit, yet there will only be $1.8M spent next year in renewal. That’s only 1.5%, which at that rate would take us 66 years to catch up (assuming deficit doesn’t grow). Why are we not being more aggressive in renewing the infrastructure?
  3. The annual water and sewer bill for a family of 4 is quoted as being $580/year. I have asked a number of friends and acquaintances what their water bill was like and none of them paid more than $450. Where did that $580 come from? It seems to be inflated and I am concerned that it would be skewing the calculations for rate increases.
  4. As the global trend is to encourage water conservation, why is the service fee being increased? Why not raise the usage based rates instead?

E-mail was sent at 9pm on Tues Nov 30. Within 2 hours, I got personal acknowledgements from Mayor Woodside and Councillor Mike O’Brien (who are the same ones who engage on Twitter). They didn’t answer the questions, but both promised that answers would be forthcoming.

At 9:45am the next morning, I got an e-mail from Councillor Steve Hicks that had answers to my questions. In summary:

  1. It works well with two commissions, however, they could and probably should be merged
  2. Renewal funds come from other sources as well, like gas tax revenue. Council is aware that this has the potential to be a big problem.
  3. The $580 is a “standard usage volume” that is typical across Canada and is only used to compare with other cities. It is not used to calculate revenue projections.
  4. Consumption is actually decreasing, having too much emphasis on consumption would starve the city of revenue.

While the level of engagement works, more could be done. Rather than be forced to e-mail every council member, there should be an online forum where questions and suggestions can be handled by a “point person” who will be able to answer authoritatively. This would also have the benefit of the responses being visible to the public, which would avoid having the same questions asked again and again.

They still have a way to go, but this process is a vast improvement over the past where City Hall was behind a giant wall. We’re also unlikely to see any explicit detail on some of the most expensive parts of the operation, the “general and administrative” costs. This would essentially disclose salary levels of employees and probably violate privacy laws.

Details please?

Posted by on 23 Nov 2009 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

Here we go again. The City of Fredericton announces something and puts absolutely no information about it on their web site. This time, it’s a plan to redevelop the run-down exhibition grounds. The only information about the project is a newspaper article with a vague description and a low resolution image. How can they expect any decent comments with that?

I’d also like to note this article which outlines the need for high density urban environments. Hopefully they took that into consideration when coming up with this plan. We’ll never know as they don’t have any details available on-line.