SEPTA Social Media Team members Ikenna Williams (shown left) and James Siler (right.) (Not shown: Mark Bariglio).
In this age of smartphones, tablets, Twitter, Facebook and other social media, rapid transit has taken on a new meaning.
Passengers not only want to get to their destinations fast, they want information about their trips in an instant, sometimes while even on the go. Gone is the time of learning about what caused a transportation service disruption long after the fact by reading the local paper or watching the evening newscast — details are needed now.
To answer customers’ demands of immediacy, transportation organizations across the country have taken to using a variety of methods to disseminate details as quickly as possible— ranging from real-time service and vehicle tracking applications to Facebook posts that alert riders to upcoming construction projects.
Over the past four years, Southeastern Pennsylvania Tranportation Authority (SEPTA) has regularly introduced and upgraded the tools it uses to make customers’ rides more interactive. For example, the agency’s transit customers can request the next four scheduled trips or schedule information for their specific routes via text message by using an assigned route stop identification number. The “System Status” feature on SEPTA’s website lists all routes and rail lines, giving details of detours, service alerts and advisories.
Trainview provides SEPTA regional rail customers with an online glimpse of trains out on the rails and if service is running on or close to schedule. Twitter updates announce service delays (and when normal service has resumed) almost as soon as they happen. In addition to tools designed by SEPTA’s in-house IT team, SEPTA has also invited the local tech community to create their own apps for riders.
While helpful in getting passengers to and from their destinations, the apps and web tools don’t lend themselves to being very “social” — there is little or no opportunity for customer s to offer feedback or ask questions and interact with staff. SEPTA’s Facebook page has helped by allowing customers to respond to the agency’s posts about special events, activities and construction, post questions for staff and “converse” with fellow riders.
To complement Facebook, SEPTA recently launched the @SEPTA_Social Twitter feed. Manned by a three-person “Social Media Team,” the feed is live seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Social Media Team is dedicated solely to the transit system’s social media efforts. In addition to tweeting pertinent information and responding to customers’ comments and questions, they also monitor major social media platforms for all things SEPTA related.
Ikenna Williams monitors SEPTA mentions on social media platforms.
After a tweet or post is spotted, the social media specialist will respond directly or gather additional details if needed. This information is passed on to supervisors or other additional internal channels if the situation requires action or attention.
@SEPTA_Social rolled out with a soft launch, but is gaining followers through users re-tweeting responses and online mentions via other social media platforms.
“The early response to @SEPTA_Social not only demonstrates our passengers’ desire for information about SEPTA service, but also their wanting to be heard other than via traditional methods such as in person and by letter or e-mail or phone call,” said Kim Scott Heinle, SEPTA’ s assistant GM of customer service. “As we continue to build upon our culture of customer service, we will expand upon the ways in which we socially interact
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "'Community involvement: Not just for the holiday season" here.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.
Around the world, artwork of all forms adorns transportation centers, stations and bus shelters. While many of these statues, paintings, mosaics and sculptures are permanently installed as part of a station’s architecture, transportation organizations can use their spaces for art exhibitions that not only make transit hubs more aesthetically pleasing for commuters, but also inspire budding artists. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently partnered with two organizations to showcase the artistic talent of youth from the Greater Philadelphia region and around the world.