Can Public Transportation Benefit From Social Media?

Can Public Transportation Benefit From Social Media?

If you’re in charge of monitoring your public transit Twitter account, the odds are you have to deal with a lot of negativity. Because of the prevalence and frequency with which social media updates can turn viral, and because of general reaction against cyberbully-style attacks, many agencies choose to simply ignore the majority of comments altogether. If you are prone to ignoring online commentary, did you consider the wealth of free analytical data that you may be tossing away as well? As this article from Citylab suggests, “Twitter gripes are made too easily to be taken seriously.” On the whole, this may be a trend as Twitter has created a forum in which users can inundate transit agencies with so many comments that there isn’t enough staff support to handle them all.

Agencies May Have a Love/Hate Attitude

Social media makes an impact on public opinion surrounding all types of services, but can it provide an accurate depiction of actual problems in your system? Sometimes complaints don’t align with genuine issues as this article shows. Very often the genuine opinion of a transit system “doesn’t line up with service quality (judged by on-time performance).” In other words, complaints are just complaints and are merely perception-based and not based in fact. This only adds to the confusion that agencies have when trying to manage their social media data.

How do you currently use Twitter? Do you get a lot of negative comments? Do you respond like a human? If you’re simply sending out tweets about service interruptions and route updates, then perhaps you can only expect your riders to use Twitter like a customer service line. That being said, do you want to invest in more people to deal with the enormous amount of online chatter? So then, what performance data does your fixed route software system currently collect and analyze?

The Baby and the Bath Water

Every piece of data has value. In the old days, determining public opinion to a new transit initiative took a great deal of time. Time and efficiency are at the root of a fixed route software solution. Its strength is speed in combination with the transmission of accurate and timely data and information. Social media is also built upon speed, although accuracy may be debatable. The point is that improved service to riders can be achieved through an analysis of as many forms of data as possible. This takes into account the knee-jerk responses of disgruntled commuters along with the deeper concerns that riders feel surrounding issues of safety, on-time performance and their overall transit experience. There is an advantage to sift through all the noise in order to distill the vital pieces of information.

How can Fixed Route Software Assist?

For decades, public transit agencies have been using fixed route software solutions in order to optimize bus routes, enhance dispatching procedures, manage driver/route schedules, and of course, aggregate and report on data. Automatic passenger counters reveal insight into actual conditions on the bus in real time. Used in concert with social media monitoring, you can gain insight into how the rider experience matches up to what’s really happening. This is what this NYU Wagner School paper suggests should be the methodology of the modern agency: co-monitoring, or as Sarah Kaufman describes it, “the monitoring of field conditions through a combination of staff reports, data analysis and public observations.” The paper goes on to claim that time and resources can be saved by regarding social media as a vital data stream for revealing opinion of various areas of transit service.

Fixed route software data collection works with social media listening to produce the one-two punch needed for co-monitoring practices. Twitter can be used as a listening device and a sounding board for your new initiatives. In this day and age of client-facing technologies social media isn’t something to be simply ignored. Download this PDF to learn more about how passenger information systems work with your agency to provide riders with – what is soon becoming – an essential service.