Using Social Media to Fix Transit That Fails

At Streetsblog Network member
blog Planning
, 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 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,

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.

  • Well whenever there’s a big ol’ muni FAIL downtown or on the N, I usually get twittered at/emailed at with pics and whatever long before Muni puts out an alert, and will RT those things along with advice on how to bypass the emergency and get going. It doesn’t always work only because I can’t be on Twitter 24/7 but it’s worked esp. when the N has dumped hundreds of people at Duboce on Church trying to go home.

  • Here at Metro Transit St. Louis, we use our official Twitter feed (@STLMetro) to push out rider alerts and relevant info, but it has become a de facto place for followers to air grievances or to make suggestions. We can’t always fix every concern, but Twitter or Facebook comments have helped figure out where to move bike racks, alert us to vandalism, comment on streetscape conditions, and report sign errors. It is not as widely used as traditional methods of customer service (phone and email), but its growing, and it’s helping us to deliver better transit, and engages those who use it. We hope it continues to grow!

  • Jake

    The @caltrain Twitter account — completely run by riders, btw — is pretty much the only reliable way of knowing whether or not CalTrain will be delayed at any given moment.


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