Missouri Public Transit Uses Twitter, Social Media to Keep Customers Informed

Across Missouri, transit agencies are innovating with customer needs by using Twitter accounts with real-time traffic updates and service disruptions. While the ultimate goal is to release a mobile application with GPS tracking, social media is doing a good job of fulfilling customer needs.

Columbia Transit Safety and Training Assistant Mandy Allen said the goal of social media in transit is to provide a better customer experience.

“They will be able to see, ‘My bus will be here in two minutes. It’s running late,’” Allen said. “They’ll know exactly where that bus is and hopefully that will give us better customer service.”

Metro Transit spokesperson Patti Beck said that Metro began using social media in 2009 and serves as an industry leader, with transit agencies asking Metro to share its model at conferences and conventions across the country. A full-time staff member works to update its social media accounts—Twitter, Facebook and a blog.

The Twitter account, @STLMetro, has 4,350 followers as of Sept. 10, 2012. Beck said that in addition to commuters, a lot of reporters and city officials follow the account. This helps commuters because news stations can easily share service disruptions and delays on morning news shows and local television. Twitter updates are also useful during special events in the St. Louis area.

“[We have] a lot of people who may not even use transit on a daily basis but may be occasional users to go to St. Louis Cardinals games or other sporting events,” Beck said. “It’s good that we can communicate that we are running extra trains.”

While Metro states that the account is monitored from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, agency employees understand the prevalence of social media and put forth extra effort to stay plugged in outside of business hours.

“Social media helps us be a better transit agency since we are plugged into the immediacy,” Beck said.

Beck said about 70 percent of MetroBus vehicles have GPS tracking, which is used for operational purposes now. Metro’s goal is to develop a mobile application an do live testing with customers in 2015.

Columbia Transit is in the process of releasing a mobile application for FastCAT, a student shuttle owned by the city in Columbia, Mo., Allen said.

Michael Sokoff, Associate Director of Parking & Transportation Services at University of Missouri, said that the new Tiger Line student shuttle hopes to release an application with GPS tracking as well. They are waiting on the city of Columbia to install its GPS system on university buses. In the time being, Campus Facilities communications manager Karlan Seville updates Twitter and Facebook accounts.

MODot, Missouri Department of Public Transportation, has innovated with social media and real-time updates by developing Gateway Guide across the state.

Gateway Guide is a service through MODot that provides live camera views and real-time traffic alert Twitter accounts for the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas, and the I-70 Corridor. The @StLouisTraffic account has over 5,000 followers of Sept. 10, 2012, and @KansasCityScout has over 3,200 followers.

A Columbia Public Transit bus drives through the MU Campus. Columbia Public Transit is installing GPS detectors on its buses and plans to release a mobile application. Photo by Katie Artemas.

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