The other day, Vic and I were talking and the subject of the new TTC website came up. As some of you are probably aware, due to recent interest the Commission has decided to reopen the RFP for its website. This is good news, as none of the companies which answered the original proposal are up to the task of creating what the public requires: an easy to use and accessible website.
A proper TTC website will probably cost upwards of $1 million and will probably take at least 8 months to be done right. Any company involved in its creation will need web designers and developers who are not only familiar with creating high-traffic, intuitive websites with multilingual support, but should have the power to wean the TTC off its dependence on PDFs for bulletins and notices. That company will also need to employ user-interface and accessibility experts, translators and lawyers well-versed in the legal ramifications of accessibility. Each of these roles will be important for providing full translations of the TTC website for the city’s half-dozen or so most popular languages as well as ensuring that the website can be accessed by everyone, young or old, hearing or sight impaired. In short, everyone from a sight-impaired person accessing the web over dial-up and a Chinese-speaking senior should have no problems using the site. The accessibility lawyer will be needed to ensure that all guidelines (such as those of the Web Accessibility Initiative) are met to cover the TTC’s ass in case of liability. These experts will not come cheap.
In addition to the above roles, the TTC website will require one or more individuals who will be tasked with the responsibility of signing off on the finished product. These people will be responsible for seeing that the project meets the highest guidelines and must have the political backing so that their say is final and that the project isn’t complete until they say it is.
No company in Toronto can offer all these services. In fact, probably only a handful of companies world-wide have the personnel, experience and technical know-how to create a website suited to avoid lawsuits similar to that of NFB v. Target. In addition to being expensive, these companies are probably backlogged with work.
Toronto has some intelligent people who can provide the skills and knowledge, but they are few and far between and already have jobs. What this city needs is a sort of Justice League of web experts who can occasionally group together for the common good. Single-day initiatives like the Toronto TransitCamp are not the answer.
Probably the best solution is to open-source the TTC website, but make it more cathedral than bazaar. Invite people knowledgeable about accessible, multilingual websites to submit, maybe even as a cross-discipline project for senior and grad students within the University of Toronto. Have one or two people tasked with deciding which changes are integrated to the final product. Gather requirements, design, develop, test and repeat until done. The website will take longer (maybe a year or possibly two) but it will be cheaper and will be more likely to meet the public’s requirements.