California transportation agency finds cost savings in mobile program

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California's Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has debuted a text messaging program to save money on its communications with passengers and cut down on call center activity.

The agency will begin to promote the initiative, which soft-launched November 25, through street teams and signage at highly used bus stops this week. The service lets passengers text into the transportation agency's call center to find out schedule information.

“We have had huge cutbacks in our bus services and in our marketing budget, and we found that our biggest expenditure for marketing was the call center,” said Stella Lin, marketing manager of OCTA. “We are paying $2 a call, and a lot of people are just calling because they want to know the new bus schedule information. We realized that it would be much more cost-effective to provide this bus schedule information via text message.”

The texting service will help OCTA cut its call center budget, which costs the agency more than $160,000 a month. According to a recent rider survey, published in November, 75% of bus riders have cell phones and 64% have text-enabled cell phones. 

OCTA is working with marketing services firm ExactTarget, which is also its e-mail provider.

“We realized that we could create an interface with our schedule database information and link this to our ExactTarget account, so we can provide bus information via text message,” said Lin.

Passengers can text a bus stop number and route number to “OCTAGO” to receive arrival times of the next three buses at that stop.

California has been hit hard by the recession and has cut many public services. According to the Los Angeles Times, cities and counties were to lose $242 million in transportation funding when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his budget in July.

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