I'm a software developer. I like technology. Often I like technology when technology really isn't required, just because it's cool. But you know what neither I, nor any technophiles I socialize with ever say?
I sure would like another battery-heavy process running on my phone for no benefit!
And, par for the course, the City of Edmonton saw an opportunity to deliver something no one wanted in a package no one liked and they jumped. Enter, the City of Edmonton's "Smart Travel" app.
So what does this app do? Well, it shows a map, that cannot be used for navigation. It keeps a connection open for push notifications, to notify you of important things you'd like to hear about. No, not photo radar locations, or detours you should take to avoid collisions like Waze and Google Maps do. No, other important push notifications like "it's September!" and "it's snowing".
It gives you "verbal notifications of speed limit changes". And approaching school zones. And high collision intersections. I'm sure in the next patch it'll add in "verbal notifications that a minute has passed", because really, what you want is for someone to try this app and have it never shut up.
My favourite feature, hands down is: Maps of school zones, speed limits, high-collision locations in the City of Edmonton, and traffic safety tips to view when you are not driving.
Because when I'm not driving, I like to sit down on my phone and digest incoherently-presented information on a small-screen map showing all the school zones in the city. You never know! One day there might be a motion on the floor in the Alberta legislature to allocate funding, followed by five years of bureaucracy and construction work and BAM! New school zone. Thankfully you can now casually browse the list of them heaped one on-top-of-the-other daily so you can identify such changes. Plus think of the party tricks! You can be the most geospatially aware of school zones in a 10km radius!
The app only cost $250,000.
Yep. A quarter of a million dollars, gets us this. And I apologise to ismartways, the UofA based developer for the harshness of this post but we should not have paid you to build this.
We can't mince words here. We are in an economic downturn. Every dollar counts here, and we need to trim the fat of frivolous expenditures. We can have nice things. We can pay for things that are worth it, but spending a quarter of a million dollars on something not very good that no one wanted is not something we can afford to do. Calling the development of this app anything but a mistake of bad planning and lackluster implementation is exceptionally tone-deaf politically. Our press releases should not be full of Coun. Esslinger and Loken lauding that "this is a tool to keep vulnerable users safe" and "it won't contribute to distracted driving. because it works in the background".
You haven't used the app, Councillors. And neither will we. You're reading off the spec sheet given to you by administration.
City Council needs to learn from their mistakes, and in 2014 they made a high profile mistake when they released the ETS Live to Go App (which was trash). It was then immediately slammed by Omar Mouallem in December of 2014. Andrew Knack called for the city to stop making apps in March of 2015. In February of 2016 we had the Mayor and Councillors calling the app terrible, with market alternatives being much better. Those are three separate opportunities where an intelligent administration and council could look at their slate of projects, realize that they were actively repeating the same mistakes as before and cut their losses and can the project.
But hey, there's a brand new bridge coming up that could use "improvements".
Vision Zero is a laudable goal. Traffic deaths are preventable and we should be preventing them. But this quarter of a million dollars? Extend a curb. Install a speedboard or two. Fund a ciclovia. There are many actions that the city could have taken that have material benefit in reducing traffic injuries. Releasing an app that's professionally sub-par (the app doesn't even follow Google's design guidelines on Android) and will only get 60 downloads from people that will never use it. And of course, it's not open source. That is not prudent fiscal policy.
The time for impulse creating an app for everything was nearly a decade ago. It's time to stop wasting our tax dollars on this.