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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

SF 311 Costs Muni $6.2 MILLION?

And you think the Muni budget nightmare can't get any worse, until now...

Word from SF Appeal is that the SF 311 program costs Muni $6.2 million for their operators to provide Muni and NextBus (or so-called "NextMuni") information. Based on all that math, each phone call costs Muni $1.92.

And I have to ask myself... is this some kind of stupid joke? This was Newsom's pet project, but while the operators are helpful in most occasions, help with Muni questions is not their best field.

Remember the days when you could call "6-SF-MUNI" and you quickly get a person on the phone who will help you? In those days, they knew Muni like the back of their hand; quick to give you an answer and give you the correct routes to take where ever you needed to go in the city. They can also look-up time schedules for you in a mere matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, 311 are not well equipped to take-on Muni questions. In my last few experiences, they take minutes, unlike Muni's phone center taking just seconds. They heavily depend on their computer workstations to find the information, and a lot of times, they provide the wrong information. I think they depend on the 511 Trip Planner program, and I honestly feel that program has been flawed ever since 511 started using it.

Here's a quick example. You need to get from the Cliff House to Pier 39.
  • 311: They will ask you where is the Cliff House (I'M NOT KIDDING), and using their computer, tell you all the options to get to your final destination. Time taken: 2-4 minutes.
  • Muni info line: Will immediately tell you to take the 38L, and transfer to the 47. They won't ask you where the Cliff House is located. Time taken: 30 seconds.
Winner: Muni information line.

Also, since it take Muni info folks much less time to answer questions, there is less need for Muni phone operators. Since it takes 311 much longer to answer Muni related questions, they need more people to take the brunt of phone calls, which means each person equals at least a $30,000+ salary (not including benefits).

As for NextBus information:
311 should work with TellMe networks to make an automated voice command system. Several years back, a random user of the "TellMe extensions" program wrote a program that used the tacky voice speaking program (similar to BART's train arrival voices), used voice commands for people to name addresses, intersections, and major train stations, and used the data directly from the NextBus website to communicate back the next arrival times. And IT WORKED.

But I also don't understand... why do people call for NextBus info when literally every stop with a shelter has a Nextbus sign installed? People with data plans on their cell phone can easily get their NextBus info and even bookmark their usual routes (I do that), and even using the NextBus website at work and bookmarking the Google Map on where the vehicles are (I use this too).

I'm able to time when I should leave my home and office so I never wait for a bus for more than five minutes. Even if I need to transfer to another bus, just a couple of minutes of using the mobile NextBus will help me on how long I have to wait for the next vehicle to take me to my destination is very helpful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The old Muni information center used to be just down the hall from the Schedules department.