Transit and Social Media

(I originally published this post on August 21st 2011, but then later deleted it on September 7th 2011. Since the original publishing of this post, Ben Franklin Transit has expressed little to no interest in continuing a social media presence.)

What is the best way for a transit agency to connect with its customers?

Sure, advertising always works. Or at least it used to. Nowadays, we live in the era of free wi-fi at Starbucks and DVR’s, where people want what they want, when they want it.

A large number of agencies have started turning to a new method of advertising: Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… you name it, there’s an agency that’s using it.

For some agencies, it’s just a simple presence with a Facebook fan page, regularly updated with news, route changes, and special events. Other agencies really take it to the next level, with a Twitter account that is monitored 24/7, with someone always behind the helm to provide up to the moment updates about temporary reroutes, buses running late, and always answer any questions from riders without delay.

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An Introduction…

So this blog will make more sense, I figured it would be best to give some info as to what I’m going to be talking about.

The main focus of this blog is going to be a public transit agency called Ben Franklin Transit, which serves the municipalities of the Tri-Cities, Washington. Most service is structured around the 3 main cities of the region; Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, but also serves West Richland, Benton City, Prosser, and Finley. In total, there are 24 different bus routes, 19 running as “Local” and 5 running as “Intercity” service. To run these routes,  Ben Franklin Transit employs a fleet of 80 buses, mainly consisting of Gillig Phantoms and Advantage/Low Floors, but also some Optima Opus and MCI 102-B3/D3-SS coaches.

Operating since May 1982, Ben Franklin Transit now has about 253 employees, from coach operators to mechanics to administration personnel, all essential to continue smooth operation of the agency. There are also 2 local companies (A+ Transportation and TC Transportation Service/A-1 Tri-City Taxi) employed by BFT via contract to further increase available service to the residents of the Tri-Cities area. In recent years, Ben Franklin Transit was hit by the decline of sales tax revenue and ended up having to make some tough choices by cutting personnel levels, deferring improvements, and eliminating routes. As the nation starts to reemerge from the “Great Recession” revenue has improved a little but it’s still going to take time to get back to pre-recession levels.

Beyond talking about Ben Franklin Transit, I also plan to focus on happenings at other transit agencies in the region, including Valley Transit (of Walla Walla, WA), Yakima Transit, Spokane Transit Authority, and others. Another subject that’ll come up on occasion is the “Epic Transit Journey” movement. In short, an Epic Transit Journey is seeing how far one can travel via public transportation, often away from the beaten path.

So, that’s that. Welcome one and all to the blog, hope you enjoy!