Written by Daniela Baker
With more and more people on the road and gas prices on the rise, Americans are looking for a better alternative to commuting by car. Unfortunately, many transit systems can be hard for the newbie to decipher, or fall short in offering what citizens are after. Even more unfortunate, many people are unaware of the options their towns offer when it comes to transportation.
When consumers aren’t finding what they’re looking for when it comes to public transportation, they are turning to social media to help garner the influence they need to get the services they’re after. This has left many professionals scratching their heads, uncertain how social media can influence a public service.
Here are some answers as to why consumers are turning to social media when it comes to public transportation, as well as how consumers and cities are driving the social media efforts.
Americans’ sentiments toward public transportation
A poll released in March 2010 by Smart Growth America and Transportation for America found that Americans are craving more transportation options. The poll indicated that Americans would be open to doubling the amount of funding that is currently being funneled toward public transportation.
The poll found that Americans are frustrated with the transportation options that are currently available. In fact, 73 percent of respondents stated they have no options other than driving as much as they currently do. In the study, only 1 in 5 of those polled took public transportation during the previous month (this included walking) but indicated they would like to use it more; about 47 percent indicated public transportation is not an option in their area and 35 percent said the timing of routes did not work with their schedule.
These survey results were not only for metro areas but applied to suburban and rural areas as well, with respondents stating that rural areas would also benefit from increased transportation systems. In fact, 79 percent stated that in rural areas the U.S. would benefit from expansion and improvements made to both bus and rail systems. Eighty-two percent of suburbanites shared the same sentiment.
Why social media
In the past, when a consumer was looking for information, they would go to the local library to research an issue or visit town hall for information on public services. If they were unhappy about the services provided or felt that there was a need that was being missed, they would meet with their elected official.
Nowadays, citizens are going straight to the Internet to get answers and try to make change. With social media like blogs, Twitter and Facebook, and websites created by the common consumer, people are making real connections with people who they have never met in person.
Nielsen Research wanted to see just how large of an influence social media has on today’s consumers. This question was answered with a study they conducted in 2007. When asked what sources they trust, chat/discussion comments and blogs ranked two and three on the list, just behind other consumers. Other choices included brand websites, TV/magazines, radio, sponsorships, search ads and banner ads.
Citizens making public transportation more convenient
Tech savvy individuals have started to take action by creating social media outlets that help fellow commuters find the information they need to make public transportation options work with their commute.
PBS.org has profiled one such effort – IAmCaltrain.com, which is utilizing web technology to make regional commuter train schedules easier to decipher. The site allows commuters to type in their starting and ending destinations and it maps the closest train stations and shows when trains are scheduled to arrive.
As websites like IAmCaltrain.com and commuter-driven blogs continue to be created, they are encouraging others in their area to embrace the transportation systems that are available to them as well as voice their opinions about what could be improved.
Daniela Baker is a social media advocate at CreditDonkey where she helps entrepreneurs find small business credit cards. She grew up in Europe where public transportation plays a huge role in everybody’s life. Public transit “consumers” like Daniela are finding their voice and publishing it on the web for all to read. With that newfound confidence, they are discussing political issues, gaining support for changes to be made when it comes to public funding and increased public transit choices.
About Human Transit
“I’m Jarrett Walker, and this is my professional blog. Since 1991 I’ve been a consulting transit planner, helping to design transit networks and policies for a huge range of communities. My goal here is to start conversations about how transit works, and how we can use it to create better cities and towns.”