It’s been quite a week. A challenging week, and a virtually unprecedented one in terms of communicating with riders.
We’re looking forward to continuing to talk with you on Twitter. One of Port Authority’s goals is to work toward increased accessibility and transparency. Twitter is a big part of that. And since we’re trying to be more transparent, we also want to talk openly with riders about what our limitations are and what riders can expect.
Who maintains your Twitter feed?
@PGHtransit is run by two employees in the Public Relations department, Jim and Heather. Heather manages it, so most of the time you’re talking to her.
Twitter is just a small part of our job duties. We also serve as spokespeople for media interviews (you might have seen us on TV, heard us on the radio or read our words in the paper), work with the planning/scheduling and marketing departments to create newsletters and brochures, work with the IT department to maintain web site content (and plan a new site!), support the work of our colleagues in community outreach and civic affairs, and much more. Before the snow hit we’d been working to assemble information and craft a PR blitz for the upcoming Transit Development Plan route changes.
Where did you get your detour information from during the storm?
Our Twitter feed really couldn’t exist without the following people:
- Our drivers, who brave icy, snowy roads and bad traffic to see which roads are passable and which are not – and deliver riders safely to their destinations.
- Our road operations crew, who put in incredibly long hours checking road conditions, pulling out buses that get stuck and writing the detours that allow buses to safely navigate the streets.
- Our Customer Service representatives, who communicate with road operations and traffic to stay up-to-the-minute during frequently shifting situations.
Road operations and Customer Service feed the information to PR, and we use it to update the web site, Twitter and our blog.
Why can’t you tell me where my bus is? Why did you refer me to Customer Service?
Unfortunately we just don’t have access at this point in time to the database that contains this kind of information. We understand how frustrating it can be to wait for a late bus since we’re Port Authority riders, too.
Customer Service is a great resource and they’re great at what they do – our Twitter feed will never replace Customer Service, and that’s for many reasons…especially for the fact that not all our riders have access to Twitter or the internet.
Our Customer Service representatives are incredibly experienced in helping people plan trips (they can do this much faster than we can), and they have access to information that we don’t, like specific info on late-running buses.
We realize sometimes Customer Service is busy, or there are long waits, and that’s particularly true during events like the recent storms. But please keep trying – they’re there to help.
When can you help me?
Before the snowstorm hit we began working on a background graphic that would set hours for Twitter. It’s already uploaded along the left side of our Twitter page, but we’re still tweaking it to make it readable on most screens. In keeping with what we’ve seen some other transit agencies do – check out Portland’s TriMet – we designed the graphic to specify “Twitter hours” to match our administrative office hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.
That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t be doing things like posting an alert if we’re notified of a T delay at 6:30 a.m. or 8 p.m. (we receive alerts on significant T delays via our mobile phones). And certainly if there was another severe snowstorm like this one, we’d be posting as required, taking questions and working long hours to ensure you get the information you need. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary service.
But under normal circumstances the use of Twitter hours might be necessary given our limited staffing. Admittedly, Twitter hours would mean that sometimes riders would have to wait for a response. Customer Service could provide an immediate response outside of Twitter hours, since they operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends and major holidays.
We realize there is a gap in terms of when riders can get information. We’re trying to brainstorm creative ways to bridge that gap using our existing resources (funds, time and employees), as well as exploring the idea of new technologies to share updates. Redesigning our web site to make it more user-friendly will go a long way toward enabling riders to easily find information on their own…and that’s something we’re working on.
The ideal would be to provide real-time information, but at this time we’re missing a link in the technology needed to provide that. Our vehicles are getting GPS, but we don’t have the equipment to use the data. Getting real-time information up and running is one of our goals, but like many things in the world of transit, it all comes down to funding. We have applied for grant money to make real-time a reality for Port Authority and we’re hoping we get it.
What’s going to happen next time it snows?
Depends on how severe the storm is. When it’s a more typical snowfall of a few inches, we’ll probably do what we’ve done in the past – use Twitter, the web site and the local media to tell riders to go to main roads, busways and the T. Many of you probably know where to go in this situation – head to the main thoroughfares in your neighborhood, the ones that get cleared first.
For a storm like those we just experienced, where service is significantly halted or detoured, expect another tweetstorm.
I have an idea about how you can use Twitter. Want to hear it?
Yes! We’ll be honest if something isn’t feasible but we’re open to suggestions and discussion. We know there are lots of great ideas out there.
What do you hope to accomplish with Twitter?
We want Twitter to be…
- A place for riders and the public to get accurate, timely transit information
- A place where people can interact with an agency that serves them
- A place where riders can share their experiences, both positive and negative
- A way to direct people to information that they might not otherwise know about
- A method of collaborating to improve our services
With that in mind, thanks for all of your support. Please feel free to share your ideas and opinions below – we’re listening.