Public transport is vital. It gets people to work and where they want to go. But communicating changes in realtime can be hard. That's where social media now comes in.
The regional public transport market is a jungle. Unlike in the well-funded and regulated capital, passengers in towns and cities are faced with a myriad of private bus and rail operating companies.
In our biggest conurbations, Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) coordinate this diverse market, joining up services and facilities for existing and potential customers.
Centro is the ITA for the West Midlands. There are some 37 bus operators and five rail companies, plus a tram system, serving over 2 million people. Centro works in partnership with these companies as well as delivering bus stations, Rail Park and Ride sites, electronic passenger information, smart ticketing, and much more.
In autumn 2011, it was felt social media was a growing communication channel that needed to be embraced, but this was coupled with a sense of wariness that, given the not always positive passions public transport users can feel sometimes, we’d be creating a rod for our own back.
An agency explained how social media could benefit Centro and devised an action plan. It was decided the best route forward was to address our two key audiences – customers and stakeholders – with a promotional, conversational, listening and responding approach.
Two Twitter feeds @centrowm and @networkwm were set up, and the existing Network West Midlands Facebook page relaunched. Network West Midlands – which identifies all passenger facilities and information in the region – was adopted for customer-facing matters on information, ticketing, marketing and services. Centro was used for discussion on corporate policy, engaging with local authorities, business organisations plus elected members at local and national level.
Social media falls under a co-ordinator who trains and directs designated staff in teams across Centro, working under a protocol underpinned by an annual plan. New users are added as and when appropriate.
The trend has been of continual upward growth in use of our channels with the principle of interaction and conversation adhered to throughout.
Many public transport users are of the view Centro runs bus services, which it doesn’t (apart from some subsidised routes) and this is something we often have to correct – which is mostly getting through. During emergency situations – such as riots, demonstrations and weather disruption – we work with operators to aggregate information they supply on a webpage and then push this out through a number of digital channels.
In just five days of snow disruption in January, Followers of @networkwm rose by 53 per cent.
Further social media plans include a forum and blog on the new website My Network, set up to support Centro’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund delivery of sustainable travel choices on selected travel corridors.
Peter Sharples is media officer at Centro.