Using Social Media to Make Transit Fun!

Around North America and Europe, a whole lot of energy is being invested in using social media to improve communication between transit agencies and the people who rely on their services. An impressive and ever-growing array of agency-created and privately-produced iPhone and iPod Touch apps disseminate information about transit schedules, service updates and even real-time bus and train locations.

The US-based website CityGoRound helps people to find local transit, biking, walking and driving applications. Advancing its overall goal of making sustainable transportation more convenient, CityGoRound also actively encourages transit agencies to make their data public.

Just as users can access information about transit services, transit providers also can take advantage of social media to gather data from their users. For instance, as discussed in this PlanningPool post, the #transitFAIL hashtag on Twitter enables riders to be heard when public transit has let them down. Meanwhile, locally- targeted apps like Cycle Tracks (from The San Francisco County Transportation Authority) take advantage of location-aware technologies like the iPhone by inviting travelers to map their rides. Data from individual trips is anonymously aggregated and applied to improving the authority’s transportation planning models.

While killing time waiting for a bus and idly playing a game on my cell phone, I realized that improving data transmission between transit agencies and users is only one aspect of the larger story of transit-related social media applications. Forward-thinking transit agencies are also investigating in more playful applications, intending to transform the culture of transit ridership.

The game I was playing, Carbon Chaos, was sponsored by Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority Translink and was created by students from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Digital Media. Simple but oddly addictive, it challenges players to transport colour-coded people to their destinations around a model city by bike, car or bus. In essence, it cheerfully asks players to grapple with transportation planning issues such as commuters’ diverse destinations, all while maximizing travel speeds and minimizing greenhouse emissions.

Finally, it’s through the Translink announcements presented on Carbon Chaos that I learned about an even more interactive way in which transit agencies are harnessing social media to make transit ridership fun. Following the example of San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) agency, last month Translink became the first Canadian transit agency to partner with location-based game Foursquare.

This video from San Francisco explains how the experience works. Registered users of Foursquare sign in on location-sensitive devices such as cell phones to share their location with friends, along with recommendations for nearby services or experiences. Users earn points for checking in at transit stations, and can unlock a special “transit champion” badge by checking in at a Translink location ten times. The user who checks in the most times at a single station is lauded as its “mayor”.

Would you play a transportation planning game on your cell phone, or turn your entire commute into a game by checking into Foursquare at rapid transit stations? Do you think these pursuits represent an effective and responsible use of limited transit funding? Let us know in the comments!

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3 Responses to “Using Social Media to Make Transit Fun!”

  1. Jhenifer @ TransLink said:

    Apr 05, 10 at 4:08 pm

    Hey — Jhenifer from TransLink’s Buzzer newsletter and blog here! Glad you discovered the Foursquare partnership, and I’m looking forward to see what people say about its utility here.

    I also wanted to point you to a post on the Buzzer blog explaining more about the Foursquare badge — it explain how you actually need to friend the TransLink account in order to get the badge. The badge won’t appear out of nowhere if you just sign into 10 stations — that’s just the way Foursquare set it up for us!

  2. Vanessa said:

    Apr 05, 10 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for the update, Jhenifer! I’m looking forward to trying it out myself.

  3. Marco said:

    Apr 06, 10 at 6:58 am

    I think it’s great to use new technologies to improve the transit experience and even make it fun, in my case i’ve been using waze (social GPS navigation) to fulfill this. Try it