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March 9, 2011

Are public tweetings in your future?

by Janna Starcic - Also by this author

What if you set up a meeting to get public comments on your transit system’s proposed fare increase or service changes and nobody came? I’m sure that’s the case for many transit systems. What if there was a way to reach out to your customers directly without all the hassle that goes into a public meeting?

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is one of those agencies that sometimes struggles to get customer feedback via traditional methods. They recently held seven public hearings on their fare increase proposal, with 12 people showing up at the most well-attended of these while, at others, sometimes only one person was in attendance or, none at all.

In the midst of these meetings in February, the UTA held what is thought to be the first public meeting using the social networking tool Twitter to discuss the fare plan.

During the event, UTA GM Michael Allegra presided over a team of fare collection department staffers who answered nearly 100 questions, ranging from the fare proposal to electronic fare collection and service during the hour-long chat.

An estimated 50 people tweeted 247 comments, which were recorded and entered as part of the official public record on the UTA’s current fare proposal.

The event generated a lot of interest, not only from the local community, but from around the world. People from as far away as London and Australia “listened” in, according to Tauni Everitt, UTA’s public relations officer.

Once the chat concluded, the UTA asked participants for their feedback regarding the nature of the event and received all positive responses. Comments ranged from, ‘Great chat, thanks for answering all my questions,’ to ‘I found it incredibly helpful,’ Everitt said.

Because of the initial Twitter chat’s success, the agency held a second chat in March to discuss another hefty topic — proposed service cuts.

You’ve got to hand it to UTA, for jumping into the pool first. By doing so, they have opened the door to the Twitter arena that much wider for other transit systems to reach out to their customers. 

Do you think this signals the end of the traditional public meeting for public transit, or will use of social networking tools such as Twitter be an additional way to communicate?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Bus operations: A 'cradle to grave' philosophy," here.

Janna Starcic

Executive Editor

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  • Charles Trainor[ March 9th, 2011 @ 3:21pm ]

    I hope the quality of Twitter comments is better than what I read on some blog sites or other anonymous comment mechanisms. These often descend into the equivalent of school yard name calling. "Oh yeah! Well so's your mother!" There is a scarcity of reasoned discourse. A least in face-to-face meetings even the emotional participants have names.

  • Tauni[ March 9th, 2011 @ 4:29pm ]

    Charles, Although Twitter is relatively anonymous, everyone we spoke with during the chat had an active profile. In fact, we are fairly active on Twitter and so we had spoken to many of them before. While we did have a few "trolls" participating in our chat, most of the questions were very sincere. To view the conversation, or to learn more about our efforts you may want to check out the follow-up post we shared on our blog: Our second chat was similar and I think that this is a tool we are likely to employ again in the future.

  • Jill Dunne[ March 10th, 2011 @ 12:06pm ]

    I think this is a great idea. Cincinnati's Metro system uses Twitter ( as a customer service tool as well - so I can see how this would work. Curious if UTA had thought about Live Chats as an option.

  • Ashok Joshi[ March 11th, 2011 @ 7:30pm ]

    Great excercise in one way communication UTA. But that is not a dialog. I personally think what it misses is the "body language" when things are discussed in a face/to/face meetings. No NOT Facebook either, but live and in person. Fare hearings other cities such as Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston have life, and are usually fiesty! A proposition for change is made, the presenter has to make the case for why and where fares changes will apply. Questions pop up about the issues -- and there is Point/Counter Point dialog. It is a vigourus dialog. An example I witnesses about 3 years ago. A little old lady in mid 70's, still takes a bus to work, 4 days a week. She said,"If the "Authority" eliminates that Discounted Weekly Pass, me and my colleagues( pointing to 3 people near her) will find it too expensive to go to work. She very gracefully pleaded her case and as she finished -- her eyes swelled with tears. Her colleagues got up and said in turn --"Same for us three". One lady remarked -- "When is that last time the Bus Manager rode that route and asked us on the ride home for comments? This all seems dramatic, but rememeber the bus company is in people moving business and one better see the faces of the riders and LISTEN to what they have to say. The spreadheet analyst did that Fare Elasticilties/Bell Shaped Anaysis. But the process need to go one step futher-- get to know the the attendees who to tell the Agency ; "Look , this is the face and spirit of rider. We are typical customers. You better see us, talk to us". The message was clear -- "DO YOU FOLKS LISTEN?" Keep In Touch with Customer's - use eyeball technology to read the riders comment. Twitter is only for the Birds! Such things cannot be twittered. Sincerely, Ashok Joshi -


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Janna Starcic

Executive Editor

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