Using Social Media to Fix Transit That Fails

At Streetsblog Network member blog Planning Pool, this week is being billed as “Fail Week” — a full five days on “information about bad planning, lack of planning, and planning generally gone awry.” We can’t wait to see what they’ll be doing. There’s certainly no shortage of potential topics.

Their first fail-related post actually has to do with a success of sorts — the use of Twitter to highlight problems in transit:

transitFail.jpgOne of the more complicated aspects of Twitter are hashtags. Hashtags are words preceded by the hash symbol, #, like #transitFAIL. The purpose of a hashtag is to organize information and people. They are
often used to Tweet about current events, conferences, quotes, activities, memes, and other things. Mashable has a good explanation about how they work.…

One of my favorite planning-related hashtags is #transitFAIL. The purpose of #transitFAIL is to publicize where public transportation fails its customers and users. It’s a particularly effective tool,
because you can use SMS messaging or use a web-enabled smartphone to instantaneously tell the world about how transit just let you down. Some smartphones, such as the Lumia 710, can even take photos or videos and upload them to Twitter, too.

Smart transit providers will use this feedback to improve their service and see where the problems are. I’d like to see transit providers use Twitter to notify people about service changes or delays,
too.

I didn’t know about the #transitFAIL hashtag, but it’s a good idea (we actually used “transitfail” as a tag in Flickr when we were putting together this user-generated slide show on lousy transit). Some transit agencies are using Twitter for service delays as well — @NYCTSubwayScoop is an example. Will this ever evolve into standard practice? Should it? Or is the reach too narrow?

If you know of more good transit-related uses of Twitter, drop them in the comments.

Oh, and we’re @streetsblog, in case you want to follow us.

  • For agencies beyond a certain size Twitter can’t easily be targeted to the specific services that a diverse body of riders have an interest in. Our members have suggested agencies like Metro have real-time detour notification available via a system similar to the one used by BART, which broadcasts alerts as text messages and e-mail. These can be targeted to relevant passengers versus a system-wide Twitter account. Foothill Transit in a similar vein allows you to register which lines you want notices about.

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