The alternative title to this post is “Time for public transit to get on the information superhighway”, but that is both silly and inaccurate. While what I have to say could apply to city or regional system buses I personally care about Amtrak (Capitol Corridor), Caltrain, and BART. All rails for me.
Anyhow, what the hell, transit agencies? Is it not in your best interest to make your customers happy? I know you have people who work there who have mobile phones and use social networks. Isn’t it time to jump on this web 2.0 thing everyone is abuzz about?
I walked around a train platform for thirty minutes yesterday because there was no way for me to know that the train was going to be late before arriving at the station and hearing the automated voice tell me so. Given the extra time I devised a really basic plan involving everyone’s favorite mainstream microblog site.
Amtrak would create a twitter account for general announcements, with a separate account for each line. So I would follow @capitolcorridor and occasionally get a tweet that said something like:
535 SJC Departing Richmond. 11 minutes behind schedule.
System delay due to Freight Traffic between Suisun-Fairfield and Martinez.
The updates would go out for each stop, or every ten minutes for system announcements. You could even do it by train number, in which case I would follow @amtrak535 or something similar.
For folks who take the train every weekday this would be great. I only take it once a week, but I know how to type
amtrak535 off and
amtrak535 on when I need the information. And twitter users know how as well, the service is really easy.
This of course applies to Caltrain as well. SVBC has created a workgroup to discuss “feasible, near-term ways to improve the Caltrain system for passengers who take their bikes aboard trains”. Their setup is similar enough to Amtrak that I think microblogging would work well as a system to notify passengers of system updates, and cyclists of train car capacity (or some other useful information).
Twitter would no doubt be willing to help an agency, since that is a serious sustainable use of their service. Of course, one wouldn’t have to stop there. A crafty IT staff would leverage all kinds of neato technologies to make aggregation of specific train information as simple as texting on a mobile (they could roll their own: Laconica).
I don’t know what would be appropriate for the BART, or if it would improve much by it, but it is worth looking into none the less. At the very least we could use an announcements account.