B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

The Problem

British Columbia (BC) is located on the west coast of Canada and is home to a diverse geographical area that includes mountain ranges, rivers, and forests. This diversity presents unique transportation issues. The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoT) is responsible for ensuring the safe transportation of goods and people throughout the province.

One of the core components to MoT’s Mission is to: maintain and improve the provincial highway system, and ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods provincially, nationally and internationally. A key component to that mission is the ability of all highway users in the province to have access to up to date and accurate information regarding the road conditions anywhere in the province at any time.

Prior to DriveBC’s launch in 2005, the MoT had Road Reports – a simple, text based website and pay-per-call phone service that charged users 75¢ per minute. The ministry’s Provincial Highways Conditions Centre (PHCC) received incident information via phone or hand written fax. The data was then manually sorted, typed into the web and verbally recorded on the phone system. In cases where PHCC received hand–written faxes, spelling, road names, dates, times, and other crucial details were sometimes illegible, requiring phone calls or additional faxes to verify information.

This system was also limited to those who had internet access, and to those who were able to afford the pay-per-call phone service. As a result many people across the province were not able to access the information they needed to plan their routes.

This process for collecting and reporting information was laborious and cumbersome. Most importantly, it did not provide citizens with the most current and accurate information possible. Without the ability to access this information highway users faced dangerous road conditions with no prior warning, long delays for road closures, and the inability to properly plan their route through the province.

In early 2003 MoT evaluated how to properly inform the public of road conditions, and what preventative measures needed to be taken to ensure public safety on the highways.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
DriveBC is a traveller information system that is designed to provide citizens with comprehensive, current road conditions for the provincial highways throughout the province, on a 24/7 basis. The public now has immediate access to information that is published about the highways in BC.

MoT recognized the positive difference that better information could make to people’s lives and the economy. New web-based technologies were sought to help manage the complex data and information flow. Quick, efficient data entry by MoT staff and contractors was essential. MoT Staff and Maintenance Contractors are able to update the event information from anywhere in the province at any time. They can do this from anywhere they access internet or they can call the information into the PHCC and the information will be updated immediately. The result of these efforts is clear, consistent and current information that is accessible to citizens, in a choice of service options, to meet a variety of needs.

On the website, information is available as a text list or map. The DriveBC map displays icons for road conditions, incidents or construction. Webcam icons offer photos of more than 200 highway locations, which are refreshed frequently, to ensure that motorists can see the latest in road and traffic conditions.

The map interface provides users with an intuitive map for planning their routes. Citizens now have the ability to zoom in and out for more detail, and they can select the Road Events they wish to see (ie: weather, incident, current and future planned events).

The text list offers the choice of viewing information by area, route or popular routes. DriveBC users can also select “major events” which indicate where there are weather advisories, road closures or delays expected to last longer than 30 minutes. They can even create customized reports for their route of travel.

Once information is entered into DriveBC, it appears on the public website and is issued to the subscribers simultaneously. It also goes to the toll-free phone service, where the latest in text–to–speech technology, makes it instantly available to the public via the toll–free phone line (1-800-550-4997 (1-800-550-HWYS)).

Other key features of the site include several emergency messaging functions. There are Amber Alerts for missing children; Public Safety Campaigns such as Shift into Winter which provides crucial information about preparing for winter driving; and general Public Safety Announcements relating to specific event such as flooding, fires, or avalanches.

In October 2011 a mobile site was introduced to provide users with access to information from anywhere in the province from their mobile device. The mobile site also includes a ‘report a problem’ function that connects the public with the contact information for the Maintenance contractors in their area to report any problems on the roads.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
MoT recognized that for smooth implementation, communication to specific and general audiences was essential. Email updates were sent out to all MoT staff and maintenance contractors, chronicling DriveBC achievements and advising of work underway. Presentations were made at regional MoT gatherings, to the PHCC, and to MoT area managers who are responsible for maintenance contractor relations.

Maintenance contractors received training in 16 locations, throughout the province. The training team spent 18 weeks showing contractors how to enter road condition and incident information and explaining the new business processes. When DriveBC was changed to enable MoT staff and maintenance contractors to also enter data for construction work, training was delivered in four locations around the province, over four weeks.

Since DriveBC’s launch, public opinion has been sought annually to ensure that DriveBC continues to respond to citizens’ needs. Each year, MoT’s Customer Satisfaction Survey has asked approximately 2,500+ BC residents what they think about DriveBC. Survey results for 2011 indicated that 93.6 % of survey respondents rated themselves “Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied” with the DriveBC Traveller Information System. Additionally, the DriveBC Traveller Information System was rated one of the Top Five most important services offered by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

In 2006 when MoT moved to integrating the phone service with the DriveBC application, the ministry wanted to ensure the new system would meet citizens’ needs. Multiple focus groups were held to test public acceptance of changes, gather recommendations for further improvements and identify additional information the public might be seeking. Participant feedback led to enhancements, including providing information by highway number (vs. region), extending the time frame for callers and adding a repeat option.

Feedback from the site indicated that users were interested in having a site that would be compatible on their mobile devices. The DriveBC team quickly met demands, delivering a single product that meets the needs of multiple mobile platforms in a matter of months, at a tenth the initial development cost estimate.

In the case of Mobile DriveBC, the team responded to the changing social media – connected culture and technological advances by creating a site that was accessible from any mobile internet connection, without disrupting regular service. This site was thoroughly tested through ministry users and select members of the public before widespread release, to ensure the final product performed as desired.

Both the main DriveBC site and the Mobile site contain links to Social Media outlets in an effort to stay culturally relevant, and to connect to the public in a variety of ways. For example DriveBC has its own Twitter feed that allows the public to receive automatic updates through twitter which can then be linked back to event announcements on the main DriveBC page.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The initial proposal came from the Executive level of MoT, based on public feedback for a more comprehensive highway reporting system. The initiative began with a team effort from MoT. The original design and development of the site was contracted out to the IBI Group a private company that specialized in intelligent systems. Additionally IBI preformed the initial business and technical analysis. The first site that was launched was immediately shut down due to negative feedback from the public. The team then conducted more stakeholder analysis, and incorporated even more public feedback before launching the new site.

As the initiative has progressed the DriveBC team has taken over more and more of the design and development of DriveBC with the DriveBC Mobile site being produced entirely in house.

Focus groups and public feedback were incorporated into every step of the development process, and continue to lead the DriveBC team in planning of new initiatives.

The MoT sought to have input from various stakeholders in BC such as the BC Trucking Association, Road Builders, Emergency responders and the public.
Stakeholders include anyone who uses the DriveBC website or anyone who is travelling on BC’s highways. A DriveBC user is a school bus driver, monitoring the website for snow and black ice before leaving for their morning pick-ups; it’s the trucker calling the phone service to avoid wait times and vehicle idling; it’s the commuter using our highway webcams to check for congestion on Lower Mainland bridges; it’s the retired couple planning an RV adventure; and it’s the ambulance service, when notified of incidents via its subscription, can avoid delays that determine life or death.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Prior to DriveBC there were Road Reports. In early 2003 in response to public feedback through focus groups, options were explored for enhancing the highway conditions reporting.

IBI was contracted out to conduct the first technical analysis, and to design and develop the new site.

The first site that was launched was immediately shut down due to negative public feedback. Once more stakeholder analysis and public consultations took place the new site was developed.

The new DriveBC site (Legacy site) was launched in 2005, and remained in operation until late 2011.

In 2010 work on the site resulted in a total overhaul of the site. New features included an intuitive map, environmental reports from Environment Canada, and a dramatic increase in the number of highway webcams. Most of the work that went into the new site was done internally by MoT rather than contracting out to the IBI group.

In 2011 a new mobile site was developed by MoT in response to public demand.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Many challenges have presented themselves during the development of this initiative. One of the biggest lessons learned for the DriveBC team was to always use extensive stakeholder and public feedback. After the re-call of the first site the DriveBC team has always made sure to openly communicate changes, and to roll them out in a step by step plan to ensure that all users are able to adjust to the changes.

Some of the more recent challenges that the DriveBC team has faced are related to the limitations of the changing technology. Some of these challenges include:

The mobile site: The new site was not mobile friendly, and MoT began production right away on a new mobile site that would be accessible for all users. Extensive testing took place to ensure that the new mobile site was compatible with all mobile devices.

Accessibility: One of the main goals throughout the project was to ensure that all people in British Columbia had access to the site. Several problems occurred with people who had dial up or who were in remote locations not being able to access the site. As a result MoT simplified the site extensively so that it was accessible to all users.

Network compatibility: For the legacy site and the new site the networks were not compatible. This meant that the icons that were loaded by MoT would not sit properly over the map. This would cause confusion as the events would appear to be in different locations than they actually were. MoT spent considerable time and money cleaning up the data to rectify this problem. Work is still being undertaken to further solve this problem, and add additional features to the site.

MoT is committed to continuing to updating and developing the current site, and to explore new options. All challenges are met head on with input from the entire team, the public, and all of their stakeholders to ensure they are constantly providing up-to-date and relevant services.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The financial resources for this project are covered through the Ministry of Transportation’s annual budget.

The human resources for the initial stages of this project were a partnership between MoT staff and the IBI group. As the work has progressed and the project has evolved most of the human resources have come from MoT.

MoT has taken the initiative to facilitate the production of the new site, and to develop the new mobile site. This initiative has resulted in a savings of approximately $310,000 when developing the new site, and approximately $300,000 when developing the new mobile site.

MoT continues to find ways to produce and develop DriveBC internally which allows them to explore new options, respond to public feedback, and continue with cost saving initiatives. In addition to cost savings there are several benefits to the travelling public. These benefits include:

Safety: Travellers are able to easily and quickly discern if there are areas of the highway that require extra caution to navigate. This helps reduce vehicle damage, injury and highway fatalities.

Customer Satisfaction: An annual Customer Satisfaction survey is sent out every year to all citizens and stakeholders to provide feedback on the whole ministry. This survey is the primary method of measuring the ministry’s success at providing adequate customer service. The comments of this survey are used to develop new ideas on how to improve the delivery of transportation services to the province.

Environmental: Less gridlock and idling result from avoiding travel in areas of the highway system confident in the consistency, accuracy, and timeliness of highway information.

Financial / Economic: With improved knowledge of bad weather, delays and closures, commercial transport companies can avoid slower routes. The result is quicker deliveries, lower fuel bills, less overtime, a better bottom line, and improved customer and employee satisfaction.

Opening Communication to New Audiences: DriveBC is available free of charge, 24 hours a day. The toll–free phone service ensures that people without internet connections, or en route to their destinations, can access important information. DriveBC’s website offers webcams and an intuitive map, providing information at a glance. This enhances accessibility for people with lower levels of literacy, or for whom English is a second language. The Mobile site also allows many people in the province to access the information through their mobile device as opposed to a computer, and the links to Social Media allow a new generation of users to feel comfortable with the method of receiving information.

Empowering Users and Strengthening Relationships: DriveBC empowers citizens to make travel decisions that directly impact their safety and quality of life. It’s a self-serve system where users can quickly and easily navigate to the information they want, based on how they wish to receive it – map, text-based, or phone service. The map is intuitive, providing a greater level of information than the previous Road Reports or other text-only based systems. Citizens are further empowered to provide their opinion about DriveBC, via an electronic feedback form on the website.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
DriveBC is the most advanced provincial-based traveller information system in Canada, and has inspired other jurisdictions to follow our lead. It stands out above others for its ease of use, range and quality of information, ability to manage and distribute current data, and its usability developed with citizen feedback.

The data input function in DriveBC makes extensive use of pick lists. This reduces data entry effort and errors, and ensures consistency of language. Uniformity of data enables the application to automatically and simultaneously display the information on the website, distribute subscriptions, and update the phone service. The result is consistent wording that the public recognizes and understands.

DriveBC is constantly evolving. As technology changes DriveBC must stay culturally relevant. That is why the DriveBC team has worked hard at updating the new map interface, and developing the DriveBC Mobile site.

The DriveBC team has also passed their learning on to others, at their request. In 2007 some of the key team members, met with the Alberta Motor Association to assist them with developing a traveller information system in their province.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
DriveBC depends on public feedback. The team realized in the early stages of planning that they needed to have constant interaction with the public during the development stage in order to ensure that the new systems were understood and supported.

Focus groups and public feedback have been incorporated into every step of the process. In order for DriveBC to provide the best service possible it must be supported by the citizens who use it.

In developing DriveBC, MoT was mindful of how new roles and processes would impact the people who gather and input information into DriveBC – staff in 11 MoT districts, 28 maintenance contractor areas, and the Provincial Highway Conditions Centre. Moving maintenance contractors from providing data via a paper–based system to an IT application took careful consideration. While there was some control and consistency over MoT’s IT systems, this was less so with maintenance contactors. MoT had to develop a solution that would work on the computer systems of numerous companies, and for users with varied levels of experience and comfort with technology.

MoT had to ensure that it could meet the multiple interests of citizens. Road reference points were scrutinized to seek a balance between what local residents would recognize as highway landmarks, and what visitors unfamiliar with an area and its history would understand.

DriveBC strives to provide the best possible service to the travelling public. To ensure that we continue that high level of service, MoT regularly reviews and makes improvement to the website and phone line. Technology does not stand still, and DriveBC seeks to keep pace with what citizens expect and with the best that technology offers, while remaining conscious of fiscal responsibility to taxpaying citizens.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Lesley Nicholl
Title:   Senior Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   250 356-0996
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   940 Blanshard Street
Postal Code:   V8W 9T5
City:   Victoria
State/Province:   British Columbia
Country:   Canada

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