One of the most helpful services offered by our provincial government here in Prince Edward Island has always been Island Information Service.
By calling the easy-to-remember 902-368-4000 telephone number, I can talk to a friendly, helpful, knowledgeable information specialist who can help me navigate the complex thicket of the bureaucracy.
Except that now I can’t.
When I call that number now, rather than a friendly voice on the other end, a robot answers the phone and asks me to navigate a telephone tree: “for tax questions, such as property tax, deed registry, HST and pensions, press 2,” and so on.
Setting aside the wicking away of the helpful personal service, this approach is fine if your query happens to fall into one of the 5 options offered. But citizen questions are often more complicated than that, and it’s difficult to tell which bureaucratic box to tick. Talking one-on-one with Michelle or one of her colleagues would always result in an answer; tapping to the robot can quickly get frustrating.
But even setting that aside, robots don’t always work like they’re supposed to. Humans sometimes don’t work too, but with robots it’s often a binary breakdown — they work, or they don’t — rather than the “I’m having a bad day and aren’t as pleasant as I usually am” way that humans tend to degrade.
This was my issue today: I phoned Island Information Service to get information about how to get a voluntary ID for Oliver. I dutifully pressed 4 and then 2, and the robot told me I was being “transferred to Access PEI.”
A pause. And then “the number you have dialed is not in service; please check the number and try your call again.”
Systems are fallible — I’ve made a career out of managing their fallibility, so I know this perhaps better than most. But because I can only talk to a robot, I can’t report the issue: pressing 0 to speak to an operator doesn’t work. There’s no “to report an issue with this system” option. There are no search results on the government telephone directory for “Island Information Service.”
And so I’m stuck.
And thus I pen this bug report here, with hopes that the robot will read it and take corrective action.
And maybe bring Michelle back?