Social media transport

Metro Trains and their Twitter feed

Amidst the outrage about changes to Metro’s Twitter feed, there are claims that it used to include train cancellations.

This was not so. They did not tweet individual train cancellations or diversions. These only went out on SMS to subscribers, and on the web site.

(Alas Metro have now deleted the evidence of this that would be in their favour.)

But what they did tweet was disruptions/delays (whether minor or major) to multiple trains. Since this week, they’ve held back on most of these.

Metro argue that people don’t want to be swamped by tweets of limited relevance to them. But the 10,000+ followers didn’t seem phased by that — perhaps because Twitter is such that (within reason) it’s pretty easy to skim through tweets as they’re posted. If you see one that doesn’t apply to a train line you use, you can easily not read it.

Of course, it might have been a problem if the Twitter feed had included individual cancellations. That might have swamped people with too many updates. But as I say, these weren’t posted on Twitter.

So the real issues with the change are:

1. Many disruptions previously posted to Twitter are no longer tweeted, such as on Wednesday when what was described on their web site as “major” (eg more than 15 minute) delays on the Craigieburn and Ringwood lines went unmentioned on Twitter — likewise this afternoon’s “Minor Delays … outbound (earlier train fault at Parliament). Delays up to 15 minutes” affecting three lines (Craigieburn, Sydenham and Upfield), visible only on the web…

2. And that they instead post messages that claim all is running smoothly, even when there are cancellations or “minor” delays on some lines — such as this morning’s effort: “Train services running smoothly so far this morning. We’ll tweet any major disruptions if they occur. #MetroTrains” — when in fact there had been at least three cancellations.

They are recommending people sign up for SMS alerts, which can be quite good (and give people’s personal station times, rather than what the web site does, which is make you work out what time a cancelled train would have passed your station) and genuinely alerts you, even if you’re not looking at Twitter or the web. But it’s a bugger to sign up to, especially if your regular travel times vary… and it’s costing them a bomb to send out all the alerts. Oh, and there’s the minor detail that it doesn’t work after 8pm or on weekends.

What they should probably do is what V/Line have done, and set up individual Twitter feeds for each line. These could list every cancellation, disruption and delay (as per the web site) — in fact like this unofficial set of feeds* (which scrapes the web page). Then Metro can go ahead and use the main MetroTrains account for just feedback and major disruptions. People can then follow what they want, and get information pushed to them as they need it. Everybody wins.

More broadly, once the PTDA starts up (and subsumes Metlink), it would arguably be better to put all operator updates under their umbrella branding (whatever that will end up being) — provided the information can be posted quickly and efficiently, of course. That’s what Translink South East Queensland does (though at first glance they don’t appear to be posting bus updates).

By the way, Metro deserve credit for actually engaging with people on this issue on Twitter. Hopefully they’ll move to continue providing the information people want to see through Twitter (and through other avenues). There’s no reason they can’t be both informative and chatty.

*This list is linked from the PTUA Twitter account, but not run by the PTUA

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By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

3 replies on “Metro Trains and their Twitter feed”

The other thing about twitter is you see the metrotrains updates as you’re skimming other updates, whereas visiting the website requires specific intent. As you say, people (ten thousand of them) didn’t seem bothered by way it was done.

I agree that individual twitter feeds for particular lines would be best. I subscribe to the SMS service, but the messages seem to be very unreliable. I’ve been stuck on delayed trains and not received a message or received the message long after the time of the train that the message says is delayed.
In this world organisations can’t just rely on one communication channel – they have to do it all.
I’m sure that I’ve seen tweets about train cancellations, but maybe they’ve been happening so often on some lines that I now imagine them.

Does SMS really *cost* a lot? I know the carriers can *charge* a lot, but I suspect the cost is fractions of a cent. Both are probably the wrong model, RSS would be the way to go.

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