Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

The Problem

One of the core components of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s (MoT) 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 of this mission is to ensure that all highway users in the province have access to current and accurate information regarding road conditions and incidents.

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 for the travelling public. Shifting weather also contributes to rapidly changing road conditions along the provincial highway network. The travelling public relies on the ministry to provide them with the information they need to make safe travel decisions.

Prior to DriveBC’s launch in 2005, 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 Highway 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 handwritten faxes the spelling of 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.

The process for collecting and reporting information was laborious and time consuming. Most importantly, it did not provide citizens with the most current and accurate information. 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 BC.

In early 2003 MoT conducted an evaluation of the provincial incident messaging protocol. The purpose of this review was to identify the best means of informing the public of current road conditions and what preventative measures need to be taken to ensure public safety along the provincial highway network.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
DriveBC is the British Columbia traveller information system designed to provide citizens with 24/7 access to current road conditions, incidents and events along the provincial highway network.

The ministry recognized that an ideal traveller information system would have the ability to enter data in a timely and efficient manner by both ministry and contracted staff from anywhere at any time. In developing a web based input utility the ministry was able to address these requirements.

The public website displays traveller information in a text list as well as a visual map. The DriveBC map displays icons for road conditions, incidents and future planned events as well as a number of other features such as weather forecasts, dynamic message signs and inland ferry information just to name a few.

The BC HighwayCams are one of the most popular features on DriveBC, displaying over 290 webcam images province-wide. These images are frequently refreshed to ensure that motorists continue to have access to a visual of the latest road and traffic conditions.

The map interface provides users with an intuitive map for planning their routes. From the map legend users can choose which icons they would like displayed on the map. They also have the option to zoom in and out to get a closer look at the conditions surrounding their community.

Data entered into DriveBC by ministry staff and contracted staff is displayed on the public website and issued to email and Twitter 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-HWYS.

The conditions and events tab on DriveBC allows citizens to view current road conditions and events in text format. Users may narrow down the scope of the text list by choosing to view by major event, area, route or popular route. Major events indicate weather advisories, road closures and delays expected to last longer than 30 minutes.

Other key features include several emergency messaging functions such as Amber Alerts for missing children, Public Safety campaigns such as winter driving tips, and Public Safety Announcements such as flooding, fires, or avalanches.

In 2011, the DriveBC team responded to the changing social media connected culture and technological advances by creating a mobile site that was accessible from any internet connection, without disrupting regular service. This site was designed and developed by ministry staff and continues to be maintained within the ministry.

Several additions were made in 2012 in response to public feedback, including: a plan your route feature, email subscriptions, Twitter by region, and increased weather information.

The result is clear, consistent and current information that is accessible to citizens, in a number of service options, to meet a variety of needs. As Drive BC continues to grow, the team is constantly responding to public feedback and addressing their needs through continued development.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
DriveBC was initially proposed by ministry Executive based on public feedback and a need for a more comprehensive reporting system. The original design and development of the site was a joint effort between ministry staff and the IBI Group, a private company that specializes in intelligent systems.

The ministry sought input from various stakeholders in BC such as the BC Trucking Association, Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, Emergency responders and the public. Focus groups and public feedback were incorporated into every step of the development process, and continue to provide the DriveBC team with direction for new initiatives.

The initial site was launched and immediately shut down due to negative feedback from the public. The team then conducted further stakeholder analysis, and incorporated even more public feedback before launching the new site.

Stakeholders include anyone who uses the DriveBC website or anyone who travels along BC’s highway network. A DriveBC user could be a school bus driver monitoring the website for snow and black ice before leaving for their morning pick-ups; a commercial vehicle operator dialling into the phone service to avoid wait times and vehicle idling; a commuter using our highway webcams to check for congestion on Lower Mainland bridges; or the retired couple planning an RV adventure.

Users also include emergency services such as the ambulance service who receives email updates through the subscription service helping them to avoid delays that could impact life and death situations.

(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.
DriveBC was introduced in a variety of ways to effectively communicate with a number of different target audiences. The ministry initiated a series of introduction emails to ministry staff and maintenance contractors. These emails were clear and concise featuring DriveBC achievements and highlighting work underway. Presentations were made at regional gatherings, to the PHCC, and to ministry 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 as well as explaining the new business processes.

Since DriveBC’s launch in 2005, public opinion has been sought annually to ensure that DriveBC continues to respond to citizens’ needs. Each year the ministry’s Customer Satisfaction Survey has asked more than 2,500 BC residents what they think about DriveBC. Survey results for 2012 indicated that 92 % 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 the past four years in a row.

In 2006 the ministry integrated the phone service into the DriveBC input utility. Multiple focus groups were held to test public acceptance of the new system and to 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 met the needs of multiple mobile platforms in a matter of months, at a tenth of the estimated development cost.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
In early 2003 the ministry gathered public feedback through focus groups. The results were compiled and used to make a recommendation for improving the reporting of highway conditions.

IBI Group was contracted to conduct the first technical analysis, and the initial design and development of DriveBC.

After the first implementation of DriveBC was shut down due to negative public feedback, the team quickly sought further public feedback.

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 DriveBC. New features included an interactive 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 ministry staff.

In 2011 the ministry responded to public demand by developing a new mobile site. 2011 also saw the decommissioning of the Legacy site, and the development of DriveBC Mobile.

In 2012 the plan your route option was added to the website, email subscriptions were upgraded, Twitter by region was expanded and ministry weather stations, high elevation weather and dynamic message signs were added to the interactive map.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Many challenges became apparent 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 BC had access to the site. Several problems occurred with people who had dial up or who lived in remote locations that made it difficult to load the site.. As a result the team restructured the site to simplify how the data was being displayed enabling all users to access DriveBC information.

Network compatibility: For the legacy site and the new site the networks were not compatible. This meant that the icons that loaded by MoT would not display properly on the new map. This would cause public 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 underway to develop a more complete solution to this issue.

MoT is committed to continuing to update and develop 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 MoT’s annual budget.

Human resources for the initial stage of this project included a combination of MoT staff and contractors from IBI Group. As work progressed and the project evolved the work load transferred solely to MoT staff.

MoT undertook the facilitation and production of the new site, and the development of DriveBC Mobile. The result of using in house resources was a savings of approximately $310,000 for the new site and approximately $300,000 for DriveBC Mobile.

The DriveBC team continues to seek ways to develop and maintain DriveBC using internal resources, allowing them to explore new options, incorporate public feedback, and continue with cost saving initiatives.

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 other traveller information systems for its ease of use, range and quality of information. DriveBC’s ability to manage and distribute current data, and its usability developed from citizen feedback are two of the leading reasons why public interest in the system continues to rise.

DriveBC’s input utility makes extensive use of pick lists which reduces the occurrence of errors. Consistent data enables the application to automatically and simultaneously display information on the website, distribute email and Twitter subscriptions, and update the phone system. The result is consistent wording that the public recognizes and understands.

DriveBC is constantly evolving. As technology changes DriveBC must continue to embrace new ways to deliver information to the public. A good example of this is the incorporation of the Google map interface and DriveBC Mobile.

The team continues to be open in sharing lessons learned with any interested parties. In 2007 some of the key team members, met with the Alberta Motor Association to assist them with developing a traveller information system for their province.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The DriveBC team realized that public input was a key factor in the development of DriveBC. Constant interaction with the public during the design and development stages led to the future success of DriveBC. The team continues to follow this method to ensure the public receives the information they want the way they want it.

In developing DriveBC, the ministry was mindful of how new roles and processes would impact the people who gather and input information into DriveBC. These roles included staff from the 11 MoT districts, 28 maintenance contractor areas, and the PHCC. Training maintenance contractors to move from a paper based reporting system to a web based application took careful consideration. Unlike the ministry, maintenance contractors are not required to maintain uniform computer systems. This meant the ministry was required to develop a solution that would work on the computer systems of numerous companies, and for users with varied levels of experience.

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. The ministry is constantly seeking ways to improve DriveBC. Through public feedback, the DriveBC team is able to continue to provide updates and new features that address their needs.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Samantha Eburne
Title:   Senior Manager, Business Services  
Telephone/ Fax:   1-250-356-8780
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   Suite 4D - 940 Blanshard Street
Postal Code:   V8W 9T5
City:   Victoria
State/Province:   BC
Country:   Canada

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