Text end of the line for queues

13 Feb 2006

In today’s fast-moving society, if there’s anything more frustrating than having to queue, it’s having to queue when you have no idea how much of a wait is in prospect.

The time spent usually involves gnawing teeth at the thoughts all of the other tasks that could be accomplished if you weren’t stuck behind 44 other people who got there before you.

Seeing as many of us routinely use technology to organise our time in many useful ways, from collaboration software to handheld computers, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that one organisation is putting this principle to work in an area where our time is not our own.

A new system recently rolled out at the Motor Taxation Office in the Nutgrove Shopping Centre on Dublin’s southside uses text messaging to take the guesswork out of queuing and leaves people free to take care of other business while virtually waiting in line.

When people arrive at the offices they are greeted by a sign telling them about the Q-Watch system. Visitors take a ticket as they normally would but they are prompted by the slogan “Why wait in line? We’ll text you when it’s time”.

To use the service, customers text ‘NG’ followed by their ticket number to the short code 57502. Immediately they receive a text message to their mobile phone, telling them how many people are ahead in the queue along with the estimated time they will be served at the counter.

A second text is sent around 15 minutes before the likely serving time, so that if, for example, the person has gone to do some shopping they are notified in enough time to be able to return to the tax office and take their place in the queue.

As Terry McDermott, manager of the centre’s motor tax office, says: “It’s terrible to be trapped in a seat when you could be doing something else.”?

The system was provided by EM Solutions in conjunction with J&C Hendrick, which holds the Irish distribution rights for the Lonsto digital ticketing system. The Nutgrove motor tax office is the first to use such a system, says Karl Martini of EM Solutions, who invented Q-Watch.

Last year the Nutgrove tax office was refurbished and it upgraded its telecoms links during this time. Martini used one of these lines to link Q-Watch with the tax office’s ticketing system over broadband. This means the messages can give people the most accurate information possible about how much time they are likely to have to wait.

The service was piloted for two weeks in December and is now fully live. It costs €2 plus operator charges but according to Martini, feedback from customers so far is that many people are happy to pay in the knowledge that they will be saved unnecessary waiting.

“Especially at the beginning or end of the month, you might get a delay past half an hour,” he points out.

The Nutgrove office has six cashier points and although its internal target is for waiting times of under half an hour, in practice the busy times can mean queuing for an hour, McDermott adds.

“On days like that, from a health and safety point of view it’s a good idea if people leave the office and come back but [before the SMS service] people were wary in case they missed their turn,” he says.

An extra benefit for staff in the motor taxation office is that customers who avail of the system tend to be calmer and less frustrated when they arrive at the service counter because they haven’t spent their time kicking their heels waiting to be served.

Based on the success of the pilot phase, Martini is hopeful that the service will find a home in other outlets using digital ticketing systems and where long queues are an everyday occurrence: this could include the offices for a variety of public services such as passports, immigration, births, marriages and deaths or revenue offices.

By Gordon Smith

Pictured: Karl Martini of EM Systems, inventor of Q-Watch