Licence plate renewal: Ontario’s online service that dares not speak its name

By: Sandford BorinsI just renewed my vehicle licence plate online and it was easy. The problem was that nowhere on the form that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation sent me was there any indication I could do it online: the form referred only to walk-in “regular service outlets” and electronic kiosks. I wrote about this last yearand nothing has changed since then.Last year, I suggested three reasons for this omission:i) no one at MTO ever thought of publicizing online service on the formii) the Ontario government's Web site can't handle large volumesiii) MTO is protecting its partners, namely the small-business operators of the service outlets and IBM, which built and runs the kiosks.Based on a discussion with an Ontario public servant, I would add a fourth. MTO has a huge supply of the current forms and they want to use them all up. I can't comment on the second explanation, possible limitations on the capacity of the Web site, because I did my transaction early in the morning, when there is little online traffic.Of course, doing transactions at low-demand times of day is one of the virtues of online service delivery.In any event, if Ontario and other jurisdictions are to get serious about migrating users to the online option, they have to break the silence of soft launches. Here, the federal government's publicity for online tax filing (E-file) stands as a good example.Here is a second story about online service delivery, this time in a private sector setting. In contrast to Ontario's good but unpublicized online vehicle licence renewal, Aeroplan illustrates well-publicized but deficient online service.Yesterday I was attempting to redeem 60,000 Aeroplan points for four tickets from Toronto to Quebec City. I went online, something Aeroplan encourages because it charges a $30 per ticket booking fee if you talk to an agent. Online, I could only find acceptable itineraries for 122,000 points. But as I attempted to view the details and book them, the itineraries vanished from my screen.Frustrated, I called Aeroplan, and got through almost immediately – in the early afternoon, no less. The agent found the itinerary I wanted, and it cost only 60,000 points.So the extra $120 booking fee was well worth it. Probably Aeroplan made money on the booking fee for four tickets, though it is not clear that it makes money on the booking fee for one or two, likely the most common transaction.In future, I will book Aeroplan flights on the phone, not online. It's elementary that if Aeroplan wants customers to use the online option, it must offer the same choices as dealing with an agent. And this time the online option didn't.To conclude more generally, if public or private sector organizations want to encourage migration to online service they must ensure the service is well-publicized and that all modes present the same choices.

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