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GO Train late? Check your email

GO picks up on employee’s bright idea

Route-delay alerts will go to your inbox


GO Transit can’t eliminate annoying delays, but riders can now learn about those slowdowns sooner.

The transit system has just launched E-News, a program that uses email alerts to tell commuters when buses or trains are delayed by 30 minutes or more.

“We want to let the customers have an opportunity before they start their trip to find out what’s going on,” said GO Transit managing director Gary McNeil. “We’re reaching out and saying, `If you want more information, we’ll give it to you.’”

Users can visit Go Transit to sign up, giving an email address for home and work, and indicating the train/bus routes and times they want details on.

Customers can sign up for up to three combinations of addresses and services. Notifications can be sent to any device that accepts email, but so far text messaging is not an option.

“Some phones can only take 20 characters, and we don’t want to limit ourselves,” said McNeil. “We know the majority of people do have access to email.”

E-News users can also opt to receive alerts about service improvements, new schedules, construction and other news.

The idea evolved out of an informal email bulletin system created by one person in the customer-service department to deal with complaints during the particularly bad winter of 2003-04, when frozen switches frequently delayed trains. The low-key, non-advertised system soon had 5,000 people signed up.

When GO brass learned of it about a year later, they decided the alert system should be expanded and automated so all GO customers — about 180,000 each workday — could use it.

“We didn’t even know we even had an informal email system,” said McNeil. “Somebody internally was doing it as a means of dealing with the customer. When we found out we said, `Keep going.’ But it was getting so popular, we couldn’t handle it without an official way of doing it.”

It took several months and $200,000 to upgrade the software and Internet service, a high-tech, low-cost solution to passenger frustration.

“A $200,000 solution. Those are the ones I like,” McNeil said.

About 20 to 30 trains a month are delayed by 30 minutes or more, including up to 10 that are cancelled outright.

Messages will go out only to people whose signup choices suggest they might be affected. The system will let passengers rearrange babysitting pick-up times or take the TTC instead of wasting a trip to Union Station.

“If you’re at work and you find out there’s a delay, that really gives an opportunity to stay in the office to work, or do some shopping,” said McNeil. “It gives the customer more freedom in making choices.”