On a recent visit to Calgary, I was impressed to learn about their parking meters. [Okay, I'm weird, but hear me out.]
Excited about parking. Really.
My business colleague input his license plate, then paid, but didn't have to march over to put a piece of paper in his car. This definitely got my attention. Then he told me he could add more money using his cell-phone! I asked how the system was controlled, and he told me that cars with automated cameras drive around checking the lots. [So even that part is pretty automated!]
This was cool enough, but here are a few more things I learned about ParkPlus later:
- You can find out real time availability of parking spaces in city lots, and even get an RSS feed if you need it.
- You get a discount for a small car, because it takes up less room in places that are flexible, like on-street parking. Now that is seriously cool.
- Because the system is ticketless, they can collect parking fees from scooters and motorcycles. [As a scooterist myself, i kind of like the free parking I get in my home city Toronto, but governments need the bucks, so this is still a cool idea.]
- You can actually set up an account with them, and fund it, which you can then use your cell-phone to access
It's a pretty cool web-site, with well organized information, very clear, and looks pretty user-friendly.
Then I found out about their main web site.
It's not just their parking meters -- they are doing things with their web site that are even cooler. Here's the City of Calgary home page. Pretty, isn't it? So clean, so simple looking.
The image background revolves through a series, but the Bing-like search page, powered by Google, has the one search box. It's not stuffed up in the corner, saying, in effect, "if you can't find what you need, you can try this". It says "how can i help you?" A bold step for a government institution.
There's an interactive map, a news feed streaming at the top of the main page, a calendar, and numerous other cool things. Every search I tried loaded with blinding speed. Who would suspect a municipal government showing leadership in web site design?
As Ivor Tossel said in a recent Globe + Mail article (how I learned of the web site),
"In the age of Google, most government sites still work like Yahoo did a decade ago."
To find anything in most city web sites, you need to know how the city is organized, so you know what department to look in.
My own city's site tries, but doesn't make it. See the screenshot below:
I did three searches on the site, and each one took me to a different landing page with different navigation structures. It would be much easier to just use Google, and not even try navigating through the city's structure.
I loved Ivor Tossell's conclusing remarks:
"The solution that Calgary adopted may be most remarkable as an act of institutional humility. Governments are big, complicated machines, and their instinct will always be to make a show of all the things they do. But Calgary’s site advertises nothing except its interest in what the citizen is looking for. Usefulness is the best municipal service of all."
It's nice to see innovation that benefits taxpayers, isn't it. Have you seen any lately? I love to have your comments, and publish anything that isn't outright spam.