Transit tweets require proper implementation

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The Port Authority of Allegheny County has a Twitter account, @PGHtransit, intended to keep the patrons of Pittsburgh’s public transportation informed of news related to their commuting needs. In theory, @PGHtransit should notify tech-savvy bus riders when a bus is running late or when routes will be changed due to parades, marathons, and other city events.

However, Brian O’Neill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Twitter system is flawed due to the Port Authority’s inability to find the manpower to manage its Twitter account.

The issues with Pittsburgh’s public transportation are so numerous, and sometimes so miniscule, that it would be both impossible and inconsequential to report every delay that occurs.

Twitter, while one of the largest names in 21st-century web services, has primarily caught on only with those on the cutting edge of technology. I’m a late adopter and only recently signed up for Twitter myself. This was mainly to understand what these darn kids are talking about, with all their “hash-tags” and their Ashton Kutchers.

After spending some time on Twitter and looking at the Port Authority’s account, it doesn’t seem like Twitter is an effective medium for the Port Authority to notify bus users of irregularities. Although we live in an area highly populated by college students and other youth who may be tech-savvy, I feel that the demographics of the average Twitter user and the average bus rider have a very small overlap.

Yet, even if I’m mistaken about the adoption rate of Twitter among bus riders, the poor implementation of such a system still highlights the failure of the medium for this task. After looking through the Port Authority’s most recent tweets, I noticed three things.

First, most of the tweets were various dialogues back and forth between individuals about specific problems. Second, tweets were being used to advertise discounts for bus riders at a Wexford jewelry store. Seriously.

Finally, and most indicative of the poor implementation of Twitter by the Port Authority, its tweet this past Thursday stated, “Signing off per Twitter hours. We’ll be back Monday. Customer Service open tomorrow at 412-442-2000 & detours posted at”

Efforts are made to respond to individuals’ requests through tweets, and the Port Authority has the ability to advertise irrelevant discounts and perks for bus riders, yet it doesn’t have the manpower to maintain minimal Twitter services throughout the weekend? This clearly demonstrates that the problem with this system isn’t its lack of staff, but its lack of direction and execution needed when it comes to using Twitter.

New technology by its very nature creates potential that individuals and institutions want to take full advantage of, yet poor implementation of the technology may be worse than not implementing it at all. While there may be a host of third-party websites and apps that intend to solve Pittsburgh’s transit issues, the fact that I can’t name one shows fault with its effectiveness, its marketing, or both.

As for the Port Authority, it has two options to help the good people who ride its buses: Either focus Twitter efforts to inform the public of relevant transit delays and route changes, or get the buses to arrive on time.