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 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.

  • I actually think the more narrow tags are the more useful they can be. #transitFAIL is good as a complaint line, but something more narrow could be way more useful.

    For example, how about something like #transitdontgothere? People could tweet start positions, destinations, and time of day of desired trips that they couldn’t complete (or couldn’t complete within a reasonable time) by transit. Instead of just complaints, you now have a serious data set that transportation planners can use to find out where demand is for new lines. While it may be more fun to get riled up and see all the complaints roll through on your twitter feed, something specific like this can actually lead to concrete prescriptions for change.

    Of course whether or not those in power use it is another question. And that’s where #transitFAIL comes in!

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