where’s my app?

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Last December I posted about my experiences with the town’s Where’s my Plow app and its shortcomings as a useful public engagement tool that represents a cost of over $70,000 to date.

It is certainly interesting to note that the City of Ottawa discontinued use of a similar app after they encountered significant technical issues with their implementation.

This OttawaCitizen piece outlines how the app was seen as a way to relieve calls  from constituents wondering when a plow would come to their streets.  There were still calls, of course, and they included those from people wondering what was wrong with Where Is My Plow.

The piece explains how counter-productive the app was when it resulted in the city’s communications team to rewrite the messages on the tool to better manage people’s expectations.

That’s what is at the core of this issue.

Does the Where’s my Plow app meet a user’s expectations?

Snow started falling around 5AM.

I dialed into the town’s Where’s My Plow app around 9:40 AM to decipher when to expect a snowplow to clear my street so I could plan my day according to when I could leave my driveway.

This is the screengrab of what I saw:

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The logical conclusions I can gather from this are:

  • The town has 1 plow, it is located at the Joint Ops Centre.
  • Industrial Parkway is cleared, or will be cleared in less than 4 hours from the time of reading this.  Sometime before 1:40PM
  • The entire rest of the town of Aurora (including Yonge Street!) will be cleared at some time greater than 16 hours from the time of reading this.  Sometime after 1:40 AM Sunday morning.

To recap, snow had been falling for almost 5 hours, no snowplows were on any roads except for Industrial Parkway as of 9:40AM, and you shouldn’t expect a plow until 1:40 AM Monday morning.

That is cause for a pretty significant WTF?

I waited an hour and 45 minutes and checked again:

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Still only one plow, but by this time it looks as though he has covered some of Yonge Street, Vandorf Sideroad, John West Way, Golf Links Dr, Englehard Dr. and First Commerce Way (State Farm).  Again all other roads report as greater than 16 hours, which from this point would place it after 3:20 PM Monday.

At this point it is obvious the app can’t tell me anything meaningful so I opt instead for the window as a means to determine where my plow is.

At 4PM the plow clears my street.  I login to the app to see a flurry of activity:

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8 plows are at active in all sections of the town.

Notice there are no yellow or pink status indicators of any routes.  Plows simply turn grey roads into green ones only reinforcing the question : what is the fucking point of using this app to find out when a plow is going to show up when the app doesn’t tell you that at all?

Adding to the frustration the town put out a “Winter Road Service Update” to their website, which strangely doesn’t make it to the app, and it reads:

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The update confirms that a full compliment of crews were launched sometime before 4PM but it also provides details the app does not.  The update may as well read “don’t bother using the where’s my plow app as it doesn’t indicate when snow accumulation has been reached and cannot accurately illustrate when a plow will be by your street”

The entire Where’s My Plow app is bullshit and needs to be overhauled or like Ottawa, completely scrapped.

That’s not to say there aren’t apps that could be deployed that would be helpful to residents.

This one looks promising.  With a little software development an algorithm could be established to satisfy a set number of residents from the same street registering a click  (3 – 5 say) that then calls a private snow plow uber-style to clean the street immediately.  The bill for service is then picked up by the town ultimately supporting providing an exceptional quality of life.

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