FixMyTransport was officially launched yesterday and I managed to get the guys and gals behind it to answer a few questions.

I came across the site when they responded to a moan I was having on Twitter about poor First Great Western service out of Bristol Temple Meads.

Really like the site . . . this is what they have to say . . .

You have just launched Fixmytransport. Why did you decide to do a transport related one and who has sponsored it?
mySociety was formed specifically to create online projects which would bring simple but tangible benefits to their users. Some of our preceding sites are FixMyStreet.com, WhatDoTheyKnow.com and TheyWorkForYou.com, and FixMyTransport fits very much into the same niche.

Our Director Tom Steinberg says that transport’s “got two qualities: one is that it’s a very common issue to complain about, but the other is that transport problems on a small scale can generally get resolved by small groups of people – whereas something like climate change, well, not even Barack Obama can solve that on his own”.

The website has been funded by charitable contributions, grants and philanthropic donations. For example, Geovation (the Ordnance Survey grant) funded the making of the mobile version of the site.

What if any involvement have the transport providers had in setting this up?
Like all mySociety projects, FixMyTransport is entirely non-partisan. Transport providers have not been involved in shaping or funding the project, but we did offer the early access to the site so that they could comment. One tangible result of this is that we now include a “praise” button as well as the opportunity for users to complain.

We also met up with Transport for London to discuss their complicated problem-routing systems, and some of the other big operators have been in touch by email. We’re keen to hear how best we can work with each operator to make the site genuinely workable on both sides.

How are you planning to grow the user base? Is there a marketing strategy?
To an extent, the marketing strategy is built in to the site – that is to say, when anyone reports an issue, they are given a range of options to broadcast it via social media or email. This has so far proved highly effective in spreading the word.

We’re also making sure that we nurture the first wave of users. We have a team of volunteers who are replying to reports and suggesting next steps (for example, contacting pressure groups and MPs) where it’s relevant. We think that happy users will be our best advocates.

How do you monitor travel related conversations (tools) and what networks (is it just Twitter)?
We use Hootsuite to monitor social media – Twitter and Facebook primarily – but there are so many conversations going on at any one time about transport problems that it really is just a matter of dipping a toe into the water every now and again.

Do you have a presence on other networks eg Facebook?
Yes, we are on Facebook but that’s it at the moment.

Is there an app/plans for an app or is it a site that is also coded for mobile?
It’s the latter. Obviously with a site like this, mobile capability is crucial. The site has been built to display well on most mobile devices – but there are still a few makes of handset which we’re working on – it’s a tricky one.

What are the aims of the site eg how will you know if and when it is successful?
There’s a bit about this on this here under ‘Have you got a hidden agenda?’. FixMyTransport aims to create micro-activists by stealth – in other words, to empower people who would never dream of running a campaign to set up a web page that effectively does just that. It’s all part of the mySociety agenda to wake people up to the democratic channels available to them, whether that be political, social, or in this case, in the arena of transport.

At the moment we are happy to see the site is up, running, and generally functional. We would be even happier if we could be certain that our data on routes and stops was entirely up to date. As you’ll see in our press release, we use National Public Transport Data Repository (NPTDR) and National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN) data sets which are updated annually, meaning we are missing a few of the newer routes. We’d like to see more frequently updated information, available to everyone.

How many of you work on it?
The site was built almost single-handed by our developer Louise Crow. Additional work around mobile and social network integration was done by Dave Whiteland. The Birmingham-located SuperCool worked on the design.

Now the site is up and running, we have a small volunteer community (we are always looking for more volunteers, no previous experience required) responding to support questions and advising users on how to escalate their reports when it’s relevant.

And a bit about you – your CV in three lines.
Well, I am just the press person, so you’d probably be best off featuring Louise. A pretty concise summary of her life is here.

And here is the press release:

mySociety, the high-tech British not-for-profit organisation, today launches FixMyTransport.com, a new website to help citizens group together to overcome common public transport problems.
FixMyTransport is an attractive new tool which makes it extremely easy for users to send problem reports and complaints directly to transport providers, even if they have no idea who is responsible for a specific route or stop. It covers the whole of Great Britain, from Lands End to the Shetland Isles, and every operator is represented whether it’s a billion-pound train company or a tiny community minibus service.

FixMyTransport builds up and extends the successful model of its sister site FixMyStreet.com (which had over 60,000 problems reported in 2010): as well as sending the passenger’s report to the operator, it also publishes it online. FixMyStreet has been copied around the world, from Brazil to South Korea, and mySociety is working on versions for the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

mySociety’s hope is that FixMyTransport will be similarly popular across the globe – after all, wherever you find a public transport system, there’ll probably be something going wrong…

Small Campaigns
FixMyTransport users can do more than just send complaints – they are given the opportunity to rally support for persistent problems, by creating a campaign page which other transport users can then put their names to. FixMyTransport then offers a powerful toolbox to help them spread the word and lobby for changes.

Big Ambitions
Data has been drawn from the National Public Transport Data Repository (NPTDR) and National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN) data sets, which provide route names, stops and operators – over 300,000 bus, train, tube and tram stops are represented on individual pages. Dozens of volunteers have helped ‘crowdsource’ the contact details of hundreds of operators, to make sure problem reports go to the right place. Many transport providers were invited to visit the site prior to launch, and their feedback has informed its fine-tuning – you can now leave praise as well as complaints.

Notes for Editors
mySociety’s Director Tom Steinberg is available for interview to talk about how FixMyTransport could help transform public transport in this country.  During the short weeks the site has been in beta testing, more than 70 real-life problems have already been reported.

For more information about the inception and history of the new site, please see this page: http://www.mysociety.org/fixmytransport, or to visit the site go to http://www.FixMyTransport.com itself.

mySociety is the project of registered charity UK Citizens Online Democracy (1076346). mySociety runs most of the best-known democracy and transparency websites in the UK, sites like http://TheyWorkForYou.com and http://WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

mySociety has two missions. The first is to be a charitable project which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. The second is to teach the public and voluntary sectors, through demonstration, how to use the internet most efficiently to improve lives.