Ottawa

New registration system for city swim lessons, other programs coming as frustrations mount

The City of Ottawa says a new online registration system for swimming lessons is on the way later this year, and parents who have been struggling to sign up their children say it can't come soon enough.

Current system slow, frustrating and inadequate, parents complain

The city is promising a better, easier-to-use online registration system for swimming lessons and other programs by the end of the year. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

The City of Ottawa says a new online registration system for swimming lessons is on the way later this year, and parents who have been struggling to sign up their children say it can't come soon enough.

John Phillips, a father of two, said dealing with the slow and often malfunctioning city web portal has been a nightmare. 

"It has not gotten any better over the past 10-plus years," Phillips said. "It's very frustrating."

Phillips and his family have developed a strategy over the years: they gather all their computers and tablets, log into the registration portal and keep refreshing the page until one of the devices connects. The can take up to an hour and a half, Phillips said.

The situation worsened on Monday night, however, when the portal crashed shortly after registration opened.

John Phillips, a father of two, says dealing with the city's current online registration system has been a nightmare. (Submitted by John Phillips)

Phillips said the city needs to make fixing the website a priority because swimming is a critical safety skill and lessons need to be accessible to all. 

"People are trying to sign up their children for lessons which could potentially save their lives," he said.

He'd like to see some sort of queueing function added to the website, similar to the one the province implemented for COVID-19 vaccination booking.

New system in the works

Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower said it's not acceptable that residents have to spend hours refreshing a page for a chance to sign up for city programs.

"The city should be providing a registration service that's as easy to use as it would be buying a ticket for a concert," he said. 

The city has been aware of the problem for a long time and is developing solutions, he said. 

"Hopefully the other night was the last time the parents are going to have to deal with that refresh, refresh, refresh," he said.

According to the city, the current registration system can only support 450 users at a time. It said it has been working with a new service provider to develop a better system.

"This will allow for greater numbers of concurrent users to register at the same time without the city having to invest in more infrastructure," said Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services.

The new system will not have a queueing function, however, because it "presented several challenges in terms of ensuring the integrity of the solution and the security of client personal and financial information," Chenier said.

The new system is expected to launch later this year, he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Allan is a reporter with CBC Ottawa who was previously the CBC’s Kingston reporter. She has also written for the Globe and Mail. Michelle has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is half of the two-person team that won a 2021 Canadian Association of Journalists national award for investigative journalism. You can reach her at michelle.allan@cbc.ca.

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