OC Transpo to assess Twitter reversal on API fees

Just one day after OC Transpo announced it would no longer tweet daily bus trip cancellations, blaming newly implemented charges by Twitter, the social media company reversed course.

But it remains unclear if OC Transpo will return to its previous habit of automatically posting trip cancellations.

In a tweet Tuesday, Twitter’s development team said verified government or publicly owned services who tweet weather, transport updates and emergency notifications may use its Application Programming Interface (API) “for these critical purposes, for free.”

But by then, OC Transpo had already rebranded its @OCTranspoLive Twitter account to @OC_TranspoHelps, deleting thousands of tweets of previous bus cancellations. Transit Services General Manager Renée Amilcair said in a memo Monday that Twitter was asking for more than $675,000 per year to access the API. Instead, she said, customer service representatives who are “empowered to quickly respond to customer inquiries and provide support” would manage the rebranded account and focus on interactions with riders.

In a response to CTV News Ottawa, Lisa Bishop-Spencer, Director of Strategic Communications and External Relations, said OC Transpo would re-evaluate whether adjustments to its use of the platform are warranted.

“Trip information previously shared on Twitter continues to be available for customers. The best and most efficient tools for customers to use for their trips are the Travel Planner, texting 560560 or calling 613-560-1000, subscribing to My Alerts for free, or OC Transpo’s next departure widget,” Bishop-Spencer said.

“Given this most recent announcement by Twitter, we will assess if further adjustments are necessary to the options for providing trip information to customers.”

OCTranspoLive would automatically post when a given trip was cancelled, informing riders of when the next scheduled bus might arrive. It was also a useful source of judging how often buses needed to be cancelled. CTV News Ottawa has previously reported on days where hundreds of trip cancellations were announced.

A transit commission meeting on Thursday will hear OC Transpo’s plans for communicating more real-time data to transit riders.

“OC Transpo staff are committed to rebuilding our customers’ trust. We understand that consistent and reliable real-time bus and train information is important to our customers; part of a positive customer experience is providing accurate bus arrival predictions to help customers plan their trip and make decisions on when to start that trip,” a report prepared for the transit commission states. “Further, it is important for customers to know that, if there is a disruption to service, they can easily access reliable information that may affect their trip.”

Council has approved more than $3.5 million toward improving real-time communications at OC Transpo since 2020, including $2.45 million in the 2023 budget, according to the report.

The report says upgrades to OC Transpo’s real-time communications will take place between 2023 and 2025, with new features released as they become available.

The project will result in:

  • A new real-time data feed based on the industry standard GTFS-RT and enhanced customer information tools for travel planning.
  • A new customer alerts system, improving the quality and timeliness of alerts by reducing the manual steps needed to send them to customers and integrating alerts into the real-time data feed.
  • A new customer alerts portal on octranspo.com, allowing customers to subscribe to and customize alerts for their specific routes.
  • Updates to octranspo.com to provide new tools and features, such as real-time travel planning.
  • A pilot of e-ink digital information screens at high-volume stops to provide realtime arrival predictions.
  • Updated design of our transit information screens at stations, with more accurate real-time predictions and enhanced alerts, and the expansion of transit information screens across more of the network.

While @OC_TranspoHelps does not tweet route cancellations, it still posts route detours and other updates, such as when station elevators are out of service.

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