City to overhaul online registration for recreation programs

Toronto Mayor John Tory says the city plans to improve its online registration process for recreation programs to reduce frustration of parents.

At least one parent says she's 'happy' the city will make the system easier to navigate

Hani Afrah, a Toronto mother of three children, says the current registration system is frustrating for parents. She says she wakes up at 2 a.m. to line up on registration day. (CBC)

The city plans to improve its online registration process for recreation programs to reduce the frustration of parents, Toronto Mayor John Tory says.

"This is the bottom line: an entirely new system will be in place by 2017," Tory said at the Regent Park Aquatic Centre.

"We're getting a new system. It's high time. And we are going to fix as best we can the current system so that people have an easier time of this starting this fall."

Hani Afrah, a mother of three children who lives in Regent Park, said she wakes up at 2 a.m. on registration day in her district to line up with other parents and she waits for hours. She said she is "very satisfied" that the city is going to overhaul the system because it will make it easier to navigate and more fair.

"I'm very happy," she said. "Imagine if people don't speak English and don't know how to use a computer. It's very difficult to register. It's frustrating."

Afrah said, for example, the Regent Park Aquatic Centre is a swimming pool in a so-called Neighbourhood Improvement Area, but under the current registration system, spaces in swimming lessons do not always go to children who live in the area.

"This swimming pool is for a priority neighbourhood. The city made it. But it's not really a priority. People who have faster computers, they can get in," she said. 'It's really important for my kids to swim."

Registration for 2016 spring and summer recreation programs began Saturday in Etobicoke York District and Sunday in Scarborough District.

Registration is underway in North York District today and it is scheduled for tomorrow for the old city of Toronto and East York District.

Matthew Cutler, spokesperson for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said there are no "geographic restrictions" limiting where people can register their children for programs but the city has found that people generally will travel up to 1.5 kilometres from their homes to get to a community centre and not much more.

Tory's announcement comes after parents lined up Tuesday in North York to sign up for programs.

"Since I came to the city government, we have not invested, we have not kept up. And so the technology that is used to register for these programs has not kept up with the times at all," Tory said.

"I have heard over and over again how incredibly frustrating it is. How people arrange their entire schedule for days to be sitting by a computer sometimes having multiple people in the same house on different computers or going elsewhere to keep hitting refresh to try to get their kids into these programs.

"It's just an unacceptable situation for a city as sophisticated and successful as this one is."

Tory said 80 per cent of registrations for programs in Toronto takes place online. 

"And we have a very profound need to make that system much, much better," he said.

The technology that is used to register for these programs has not kept up with the times at all.- Toronto Mayor John Tory

The city has hired a project director and appointed a three-person recreation technology advisory group to identify registration system problems and to make short-term and long- term improvements. Tory said it will likely take a year to set up a new platform.  

He said the city has tried to improve the registration process through increases in server capacity, adding web-based payments and e-receipts and introducing online purchase of ferry tickets and last-minute booking of available ice times.

He said about 55 per cent more users can access the system at one time, compared to 2013.

The number of registrations completed online continues to increase each year, and additional capacity has been added to the online registration system.

Tory said it took three hours to complete 20,000 registrations in 2009. Now, the same number of registrations can be completed in just over 15 minutes. On average, 70 per cent of the daily total of registrations can now be processed in the first hour of each registration day, he said.

A website has been set up by the city to enable the public to submit suggestions on improvements to the registration system.

Members of the public can also use the hashtag #TOrec on social media.

The city processes 600,000 registrations each year for 80,000 programs and classes at the city's 135 community centres, 40 indoor arenas and 122 pools.


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