Sarah M. Kaufman is a researcher and Assistant Adjunct Professor at NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.
Accurate information is inextricably linked to urban mobility: Nearly half of all urban dwellers own smartphones, which makes it possible to travel seamlessly between subways, buses, taxis, bicycles and by foot. On-the-go information via smartphone is now the way people check schedules, stop locations, delays, and safest routes.
Social media tools, such as Twitter, allow transportation providers to communicate directly with users: alert customers about service changes, suggest alternative routes, and amplify the message to friends and neighbors. Ideally, these actions would occur within moments of a delay. Twitter is superb platform, since it is free, fast and packed with dynamic features.
But our research at NYU’s Rudin Center indicates that transportation providers in the New York Metropolitan region have yet to use Twitter to its fullest potential. Our research, based on all tweets from May 1 to June 30, 2012, offers policy recommendations for using Twitter in a transportation setting.
The chart below displays metrics considered in this research:
*recorded on 8/6/12
** Self-reported by agencies on own websites and to American Public Transportation Association, except where otherwise noted
Assuming that Twitter followers indicate a willingness to receive information and marketing posts from that organization, these findings demonstrate the relationship between ridership numbers and fans of the organization. There is a striking difference between public and private Twitter accounts: while the Port Authority of NY & NJ’s PATH has approximately 1 follower for every 20 riders, JetBlue has 20 followers for every 1 passenger. Although the airlines listed above have a lower number of daily users than transit organizations do, it is essential for both public and private transportation providers to promote their brands online to generate more messaging among users and fans.
Twitter should be used for up-to-the-minute information, customer engagement, and strategic marketing—the right mix of which will result in more followers. JetBlue and American Airlines may direct more resources at customer service than public agencies. But Twitter-connected travelers will use the system more efficiently, feel safer, and have more knowledge of what to expect. Simply put, using social media to connect with travelers will save time and reduce uncertainty and even anxiety. Improving the content will produce more followers, which will, in turn, should lead to more informed, motivated and engaged travelers. Leveraging information technology is key to better transportation.
1Port Authority of NY & NJ. "Annual Airport Traffic Report," 2011.
2AMR Corporation. "AMR Overview," November 2010.
3JetBlue Airways Corporation. "JetBlue Airways Reports March Traffic", Press Release, April 11, 2012.