Can online crowds make the trains run on time?

 
trains with graffiti

Your train is always late, the bus shelter has been vandalised, and there's nowhere safe to park your bike at the station - but to be honest making a complaint is just too much hard work.

From today though FixMyTransport could change all that.

The latest and most ambitious venture from MySociety, the civic hacking organisation behind sites like TheyWorkForYou, aims to be a one-stop shop for people trying to get their transport improved.  

A simple and attractive interface, with the tremendous catchphrase "Euston, we have a problem", invites users to report a problem, and have their issues forwarded to the right operator or local authority. Their responses will then be reported on the site, and if the issue is finally resolved, that information will be made public.

The site has been undergoing live testing for some weeks, and there are already some examples of how it's working.

Man walks past a scratched and vandalised shelter on a train platform Will the project catch on?

One user complained that the Greenland Pier, where passengers board commuter boats down the Thames, was in poor repair. There was a swift reply, informing him that the local council was planning to renovations, and the issue is now listed as "fixed".

It is a similar idea to FixMyStreet, where you can report a pothole or fly-tipping, and see your local council's response. Its claim is that 65,000 potholes and other broken things have been meded as a result of its efforts, and just in the last week 1,000 new reports have been lodged with the site.

The energetic Tom Steinberg, the man behind MySociety, believes its latest site could prove even more popular, though he admits it is a bit of shot in the dark: "I just feel instinctively that people are more irritated by overcrowded trains and late buses than by potholes and fly-tipping."

Keeping FixMyTransport going if it does take off will require plenty of resources, and the hope is that a volunteer community of the kind that has gathered round other MySociety websites will form to do much of that work.

Mr Steinberg's ideas about using big data projects to engage the public have been watched with interest by the last two governments.  

There has been a feeling of late that many such projects are of more interest to a small community of data geeks - or to politicians looking for a quick headline - than to the general public.

But MySociety tries to focus on what will appeal to real people.

"Nobody wakes up thinking they'd really like to explore some interesting data via an attractive visualisation", says Mr Steinberg. "But they do think about getting a branch cleared from the road, or why the train doors don't shut properly."

If thousands do flock to FixMyTransport over the next few weeks, maybe the trains will start to run on time - and the whole idea of mobilising people online for practical purposes will get a much-needed fillip.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1.

    I like this idea!
    Ideally it could be put into a phone app so that we could report it live "there and then". The idea of using crowd sourcing to make more and easier complaints to get a better services is a great one.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    The site seems to work well on an iPhone so I guess they've though of this.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    Interesting.

    However, since transport is so hugely expensive to maintain and change and since it can mean such tight profit margins for companies involved, there will continue to be a huge gap between public aspiration and reality.

    Oh, and in case anyone mentions it - no, the trains don't all run on time in Germany and France!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 4.

    It is a good idea and works with "Fix my Street" but organisations are showing a trend to ignore their customers in the hope if they do nothing the problem will just go away. Not what is expected in a time of openess and transparency. Hope that this works and that the people behind the site will publish figures on the worst offenders who fail to fix transport.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 5.

    This sort of popularist politics mustn't get overhyped.
    It's great if it draws companies attentions to little problems, but they can't be allowed to focus on these to be seen as doing good.

    There are bigger issues that need to be addressed first.

    No one is going to report on a points failure in the middle of nowhere that could derail a train.

 

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