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Using Twitter to Catch a Train

1:32 PM EDT on October 16, 2008

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The people over at CTA Tattler ("seen and heard on the Chicago Transit Authority"), as part of their tireless efforts to monitor the movements of the Chicago Transit Authority, have turned to the microblogging tool Twitter and created a Twitter feed with the user name ctatweet. It's a way for people using the city's transit system to post updates about train delays and breakdowns from their cell phones or PDAs.

CTA Tattler's Kevin O'Neil is combining information from the Twitter stream with another system of online updates he and his brother Dan set up a couple of years ago at a page called CTA Tweet.

O'Neil talked to the Columbia Chronicle about the Twitter initiative:

“The idea is to get this information to the masses,” Kevin O’Neil said. “Twitter is just another way to do that.”

Kevin O’Neil said he often hears from hisblog’s readers about how the CTA needs to improve communication to itscommuters. This program makes the train schedule information andupdates on delays available for that rider earnestly waiting in thecold for 40 minutes on an elevated train platform, he said.

Twitter is being used increasingly by municipal entities as one tool for gathering fast-developing information and keeping citizens informed in emergencies. This week, a Twitter feed is part of the LAFD's highly coordinated online response to wildfires in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere.

When we looked around for a NYC transit twitter feed, we were surprised to find one that looks pretty official called MTA_Updates. A call to Aaron Donovan at the MTA's press office, however, revealed that the MTA has nothing to do with the feed and doesn't know who is responsible for it (they're looking into it).

Donovan said that the MTA doesn't see a service with relatively few users, such as Twitter, as a good option for disseminating information. Instead, he said, the New York transit authority will soon be allowing riders to sign up for text and e-mail updates about unscheduled and scheduled service outages.

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