NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has thrown himself at the mercy of the Twittersphere after rolling out region-specific bus Twitter handles and encouraging Sydney commuters to speak up when things go wrong.
Mr Constance said: “We’re not frightened of feedback and complaints. I say, bring them on.
“When you tell us your train carriage is dirty or your bus didn’t show up, we can pull out all the stops to fix the issue or at least investigate whether there’s a systemic issue we need to get on top of,” he said.
It’s a bold move and one that could set off an avalanche of disaffected tweets from bus users. Complaints about NSW buses hit 37,578 in 2014, exceeding train complaints by almost 2,000. The most common complaints were about late buses, drivers missing stops and rude drivers.
Any dedicated social media officer embarking on monitoring tweets for Transport NSW will need to be made of stern stuff.
In the States, a 2014 survey “Planning and Social Media: A Case Study of Public Transit and Stigma on Twitter”, found that complaints about public transport were the most vitriolic of all complaints received by any service, either public or private. Many tweets turned the air blue and were hate-filled, racist, sexist and classist rants.
The survey also found that: “People who comment on social media about transit agencies use less negative language when the transit agency responds to individuals rather than using social media to blast announcements”, a handy hint for the minister.
The Twitter move raises questions about how Transport NSW will cope with a potential overload of comments, whether they will be responded to individually and how these comments will be collated. July 2015 figures reveal that Transport NSW has almost 130,000 followers across the department’s Twitter handles.
The minister’s Twitter push is not just about people complaining. It is also designed to give people real-time information about service delays or changes and it is timed to coincide with some major changes to bus routes in Sydney’s CBD from October 4.
The last two Transport NSW customer satisfaction surveys in 2013 and 2014 showed commuters were most dissatisfied about the lack of information provided about bus delays. Dissatisfaction levels with the paucity of information easily topped gripes about late buses or infrequent services.
Mr Constance said the handles would use real-time travel data when customers needed it most and enable on-the-spot feedback about the journey experience.
“Last year we introduced Twitter handles for each of our train lines and they’ve proved a success – with more than 50,000 people now following their train line on Twitter and engaging with Sydney Trains’ staff on a daily basis,” Mr Constance said.
“Customers are hungry for more information. We’ve seen over 2.3 million downloads of popular real time transport apps and our revamped transportnsw.info website received 37.2 million visits in 2014-15, an increase of more than 6 million visits in just three years.
“As well as upgrading infrastructure and putting on extra services to improve the transport experience, we’re focussing on apps, the web and social media to communicate with customers as soon as there’s an issue and provide more options for customers to tell us when their service is not up to scratch.”
Customers will soon be able to follow Twitter handles for buses travelling from Sydney’s West, North West, Inner West, South, South West, Eastern Suburbs, East and North.
The new handles are: @BusesWest, @BusesSouthWest, @BusesNorthWest, @BusesNorth, @BusesEast, @BusesInnerWest, @BusesSouth. See region map here.
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