More than 3 million text messages were sent for ETS bus schedules in 2011

A little over a year ago Edmonton Transit (ETS) introduced bus schedules via text message. Simply send a message to 31100 from your cell phone with the bus stop number, and ETS will respond with a list of upcoming routes and times. It’s a fantastic service that I have used dozens of times over the last year, and clearly I’m not alone. A little over 3.1 million messages were sent last year! Here’s the monthly breakdown:

ets text messages in 2011

Back in June, when I wrote about the launch of the advertising component to the service, about 1.2 million messages had been sent, or 7050 per day. By the end of the year, the daily average had risen to 8494. You can see that the increase is due in large part to the back to school season – the number of messages sent jumped from 225,730 in August to 333,877 in September.

As expected, increased use of the text messaging service has led to a decrease in the number of calls made to BusLink, the automated 24-hour telephone line for transit information. Nathan Walters from ETS told the Journal that the number of calls dropped by 340,000 in the first nine months of last year to 2.8 million. I suspect it dropped even further when school started up again.

It’s great to see people embracing initiatives like this! ETS recently launched an updated Trip Planner that contains a number of new features like the ability to subscribe to email alerts for planned detours and bus stop closures, and there are additional technology-related services on the way. Should be an exciting year for connected transit riders!

Edmonton Transit (ETS) Text Messaging: Statistics & Advertising

About six months ago, Edmonton Transit launched its text messaging service which enables riders to get schedule information via a simple SMS text message to 31100. The service was really well received, even though it was described by ETS as a pilot. I use the service almost every time I need to hop on a bus, and it works great! I’m definitely not the only one using the service either, as the latest statistics show.

usage stats

You can see that the initial growth was quite impressive, with usage doubling from January to March. Nathan Walters, Strategic Marketing Supervisor at ETS, told me that the adoption curve was “slightly steeper than expected” but that it is following projected usage quite closely. Since then usage has plateaued a little, probably due in part to the school year ending. Nathan said that usage of the service is probably going to be somewhat seasonal, just like BusLink.

As of Monday afternoon, just over 1.2 million messages had been sent, which works out to about 7050 messages per day. For comparison, Winnipeg Transit was delivering about 6000 messages per day back in May. Not a bad start at all!

text ads

When the service launched back in January, ETS said it would open up the ability to advertise on the text messages some time in the spring (the last 40 characters of each message are reserved for advertising). That service officially launched on June 17.

Advertising on the ETS Text Messaging Service provides a direct way to reach thousands of commuters riding the transit system every day. As an ETS text messaging advertiser, you have the opportunity to customize your campaign by location, time, bus route and even budget. This opportunity is affordable, tailored and easy to manage.

You can register for an account here and start advertising right away. The price can be as low as a penny per ad, but it is market-driven. Basically you buy credits and then place bids. You can customize your ads by specific bus stops, routes, time, and mobile phone provider. There’s a user guide in PDF here with more information.

demographic stats
(click for a larger version)

I’d encourage you to check out the Text Messaging Ad Media Kit in PDF too, as it contains a ton of useful information about the service. Some of the demographic information is a bit old, but it is still instructive.

You can learn more about the ETS text messaging service here.

Edmonton Transit (ETS) now offers schedule information via SMS text messaging

Today Edmonton Transit (ETS) officially launched its new text messaging service. You can now send an SMS text message to 31100 from virtually any cell phone to get bus schedule information for free (standard messaging rates may apply). The service is yet another example of the GTFS feed that ETS released in 2009 paying dividends.

The way it works is simple – text the bus stop number you’re interested in to 31100 and you’ll get a response like this (using 1859 as an example):

1859 (111) 01:26P 01:56P (112) 01:06P 01:36P (2) 01:08P 01:23P ETS – THE EVERY DAY WAY

That’s the stop number, followed by each route with two upcoming times for each. If you’re interested in just a particular route, say the 2, simply text the stop number followed by the route number, and you’ll get upcoming times for just that route at that stop:

1859 (2) 01:08P 01:23P 01:38P 02:08P ETS – THE EVERY DAY WAY

ETS has produced two videos that demonstrate how it works (they were filmed just before Christmas). Here’s part 1:

And here’s part 2:

Starting next week you’ll also be able to create a profile on the website to setup favorite routes and stops specific to your daily routine.

The ability to get route & stop schedules via text messaging might be new here in Edmonton, but it’s not a new concept elsewhere. Transit riders in Vancouver have had that functionality for years, first unofficially thanks to a couple of enterprising students, and later as an official service from TransLink. The story is somewhat similar here. Local developers Sean Healy and Joel Jackson hacked together a service called TXT.2.ETS back in March of last year, something they won a prize for in the Apps4Edmonton competition. They subsequently met with ETS representatives and talked about what an official service might look like.

I talked to Nathan Walters, Strategic Marketing Supervisor for ETS, about the new service yesterday. He told me the service is run by Vancouver-based Upside Wireless (presumably their Transit SMS product). Nathan confirmed that it uses the same GTFS data that anyone can download from the City of Edmonton’s open data catalogue. “The GTFS feed made things significantly easier, and brought the service to market a lot faster,” Nathan told me. He also said it “speaks to how much we stand behind that information.”

Though it is a pilot, don’t expect the service to shut down any time soon. Instead, ETS plans to monitor usage, gather feedback, and will be conducting market research later this year, and will re-evaluate and improve the service as necessary. In fact, if all goes well, the service will pay for itself and perhaps even drive an additional return to the City via the advertising service that will launch in the spring. The last 40 characters of the messages sent back to commuters will be allocated toward advertising (the “ETS – THE EVERY DAY WAY” part in the example above). I think that’s a smart move.

It turns out the service has actually been live for about a month, in testing by Upside and City of Edmonton employees. Apparently there has been quite a bit of buzz internally at the City about it. Today was not the planned launch date, but the accidental release of parts of the outdoor marketing campaign pushed things up. Nathan confirmed that we’ll see lots of advertising for the new service, including billboards, benches, and transit shelters. He sounded pleasantly surprised that they had been able to keep the service under wraps for so long (no doubt the holidays helped in that regard).

I had to ask Nathan the question he’s undoubtedly going to be asked over and over now that the text messaging service is live: scheduled information is great, but when are we going to get live information, perhaps via GPS? His answer: “The technologies that transit uses are always evolving, and the service will evolve as well.” In other words, nothing to announce, and don’t hold your breath.

I also asked about the shortcode, 31100. Nathan said they briefly considered a repeating number (such as TransLink’s 33333) or something like “txtets” but realized that using letters would be problematic considering most modern smartphones do not have traditional numeric keypads. They settled on 31100 because it offered great potential for the future. Just like 311, other departments at the City could make use of the shortcode for their services as well. Nathan confirmed that at least one business unit outside of transportation has already expressed interest in exploring that possibility.

This new service is exciting and will have a positive impact on the daily commute for thousands of Edmontonians. But it’s more than that. ETS made a decision to open up its data to anyone for free, and they continue to see a return on that very minimal investment. Releasing the GTFS data feed has resulted in Google Maps support, apps for the iPhone, and now text messaging. Importantly, all ETS had to do for all of this to happen was focus on its core competency – providing transit service. It’s a success story that other business units at the City of Edmonton should be very eager to replicate.

Having said that, I would have preferred to see a solution from a local company or even the adoption of Sean & Joel’s project, but I realize there are other considerations. As the Apps4Edmonton competition evolves, I hope we’ll see the City adopting more of the solutions that Edmonton’s talented entrepreneurs create.

The new text messaging service is a great way to start 2011. In fact, Nathan said it “sets the tone for the year” and indicated that ETS was going to be looking at additional opportunities to work with the community on other services as 2011 unfolds. I can’t wait!

You can learn more about the service here, and you can find additional Apps for ETS here. Check out the Open Data catalogue for ETS data and more, and follow the #yegtransit hashtag on Twitter for ETS-related updates.

UPDATE: Does the new text messaging service work for the LRT? The answer is yes! If you know the stop numbers, that is. The route for the LRT is always 201, but here are the stop numbers you need.

Station Name North Stop # South Stop #
Clareview 7797 7797
Belvedere 7692 7830
Coliseum 1889 1742
Stadium 1981 1723
Churchill 1691 1876
Central 1863 1935
Bay/Enterprise Square 1985 1774
Corona 1926 1891
Grandin/Government Centre 1754 1925
University 2969 2316
Health Sciences/Jubilee 2014 2019
McKernan/Belgravia 9982 9981
South Campus 2116 2115
Southgate 2114 2113
Century Park 4982 4982

 

Hopefully they can make it more user friendly in the future.

I love Facebook Mobile via text messages

facebookBuilding a mobile application that works really well is hard. In general, I think we put up with sub-standard mobile applications simply because they offer convenience, not because they blow us away. The iPhone is definitely changing things but for the most part, I still cringe when I need to use most mobile apps. Especially ones that claim to work over text messaging. There’s only one SMS app that I really like – Facebook.

I think Facebook has absolutely nailed the text messaging experience.

Use it for a while, and you’ll realize that the SMS functionality of Facebook is so much better than everything else. Take Twitter, for instance. One of its original claims to fame was that it worked well over SMS. Except that compared with Facebook, it absolutely sucks.

Here are a few of the reasons why Facebook over text messaging rocks:

  • You can do many different things. You can update your status by prefixing your message with the @ symbol, or write on someone’s wall by prefixing the message with “wall Name”. Similarly, you can send messages by prefixing with “msg Name”.
  • Facebook will ask for clarification. If I send a message prefixed with “wall Kim” it will ask me which Kim I mean if it can’t figure it out automatically.
  • Context! Let’s say someone sends me a Facebook message, which I have set to come to my phone. All I need to do is reply, and it will send a Facebook message back. Same goes for wall notifications. I don’t need to specify the “msg” or “wall” because Facebook understands the context.
  • Taking that to the next level, Facebook over text messaging is “multithreaded”. By that I mean, there is more than one number. If I get two messages, they’ll come from different shortcodes, so that when I reply Facebook knows which one I am replying to.

The key difference between Facebook SMS and other applications, is that idea of a session. The way that my reply to a notification is not isolated – Facebook understands some of the context around it. It makes the whole experience so much better.

Another major plus with Facebook over text messaging is that it’s both fast and reliable…unlike Twitter. I’ve never had any problems with it – it just works.

If you don’t already make use of Facebook Mobile, I encourage you to give it a shot. You can learn more about the SMS features here.

Extremely Handy: Google SMS

google mobile I’m a little surprised that I’ve never blogged about Google SMS before, because it’s a wonderfully useful service that deserves more attention. It’s amazing how few people know about it! What is Google SMS? Basically, it’s Google via text messaging. The power of Google in your pocket!

Using Google SMS is really simple. All you have to do is send a text message to 466453 (GOOGLE). There are a bunch of built-in commands you can use, but the default is just a local search. For instance, when Sharon and I were in Calgary last weekend, we used Google SMS to give us the address of Tubby Dog. I sent the following message:

Tubby Dog, Calgary

And Google SMS replied immediately with:

Local Listings: Tubby Dog 1022 17 Avenue SW Calgary, T2T 0A5

I’m not exaggerating when I say immediately either – Google SMS is incredibly fast.

The built-in commands or “search features” include: weather, glossary, dictionary, stocks, directions, flights, translations, calculator, currency conversion, sports, and more. There’s a full list with examples and an interactive demo here. The ones I use most are local search (as above), movies (such as “get smart t6p”), and the calculator (such as “0.45 lb in kg”). The weather search (“weather edmonton”) is also handy.

I’m fairly dependent on Google for looking stuff up, so Google SMS is great because I don’t need to be at a computer. Do yourself a favor and program 466453 into your phone now!

Happy Valentine's Day with a text message

heart phone Holidays are always a good time for interesting statistics. How many phone calls were made? How many packages delivered? Or perhaps more interesting to my generation, how many text messages were sent? According to AT&T, Valentine’s Day is the most popular holiday for text messaging. Evidently there’s a 33% spike in texting traffic! That’s a lot of text messages.

I wonder what people are sending? A simple “I love you” or something more complicated, like FTBOMH IWALU (which translates to “from the bottom of my heart I will always love you”). Gizmodo has a handy list of these crazy combinations if you’re so inclined. Seems like more trouble than it’s worth to be honest, especially with the T9 functionality that all phones have.

I thought New Year’s Eve was the most popular holiday for text messaging, but maybe “drewheyman” has the right explanation in his comment on the Gizmodo post:

sending ‘happy new years’ = 1 message per friend. send txts to sig other for the sex = as many messages as it takes.

What will you be texting tomorrow?!

Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

Read: Gizmodo

Txt Msg on New Year's Eve

Post Image This shouldn’t really be a surprise, but apparently text messaging on New Year’s Eve is a big deal for Canadians. According to Virgin Mobile, we send an average of 31.5 million text messages per day.

Canadians are expected to send a record-breaking 50 million text messages on the evening of Dec. 31, according to Virgin Mobile Canada.

Last year’s New Year’s Eve text message tally was around 25 million.

The article goes on to say that those of us aged 18-30 will send an average of four messages each. That seems like a really small number to me, but who knows. It is an average after all. I probably send that many an hour!

So happy new year, and happy texting!

Read: CBC News

My love-hate relationship with Twitter

Post ImageI have a love-hate relationship with Twitter going on. Actually, in a lot of ways, it’s quite similar to my love-hate relationship with Outlook 2007. They’re both extremely useful, yet both horribly slow. Let me explain.

Twitter is great for quick status messages, or jotting down thoughts that don’t deserve an entire blog post. I love that Twitter allows me to use it however I want to. For example, I went to get my free coffee from Starbucks earlier, and wanted to Twitter it. Except I couldn’t. The first problem is that for some reason, Twitter seems to ignore my cell phone. Then it will magically start working, only to stop again a couple days later. Worse still, the Twitter website is inaccessible far too often. Like right now, I can’t get the site to load. It totally sucks, I hate it.

The question of whether Twitter would be useful during an earthquake makes me laugh – it can’t be useful if it’s not up! And thus far, it seems to have a hard time accepting my random coffee-related messages, let alone important messages sent during a disaster.

I would use Twitter so much more if it actually worked as expected.