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San Francisco’s Muni Launches Text and Email Alerts for Riders

| November 7, 2013
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(Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

(Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Muni is taking steps to communicate better with its riders by offering email and text alerts, something many other transit agencies, including BART, already offer.

The alerts, which you can sign up for on the SFMTA’s website, can be customized, and riders will receive real-time information, including notices when there are service disruptions or special events that affect your commute.

“This way you can customize the service to the time of day that you ride,” said SFMTA spokeswoman Kristen Holland.

There are already a number apps like Routesy that offer real-time arrival information, but they don’t include service alerts. Holland said the information will mirror what the agency has been posting to its 17,000 followers on Twitter for the last year and a half.

Aaron Antrim, a public transit data consultant based in Portland, Oregon, said transit agencies realize social media alone “appears to be far from an ideal medium for disseminating service alerts.” He’s written about the issue on his blog.

Muni could do even more for riders by making its real-time data feed available in a more useful format.

Antrim, the principal at Trillium Solutions, applauded Muni for reaching out to its riders through texts and email, and said the SFMTA could take things further by switching its real-time data feed for buses and trains to a more universal format. For wonks, that would be transferring from its NextBus XML feed to GTFS-realtime (general transit feed specification) feed, which Antrim said is an industry standard.

That would allow Google, for example, to incorporate service alerts and other information into Google Maps.  “So, you would plan your trip and see service alerts that are relevant to that trip,” said Antrim. A Muni spokesman confirmed the agency and Google are looking into it.

Of course, not everyone who accounts for Muni’s 700,000 daily passenger boardings uses smartphones, and that’s partly why the texts and emails will come in handy because almost everyone has a cell phone, said Antrim.

For those who don’t frequently use cellphones, or might be in a blackout zone for Wi-Fi or cell service, the agency says it’s trying to get better about the way operators communicate with riders about delays. A big part of that involves upgrading Muni’s 43-year-old radio and communications system, which only allows dispatchers to communicate one incident at a time.

The agency also plans to upgrade its 900 “Next Muni” signs at bus shelters around the city, along with sprucing up the audio communication and signage system in subway stations.

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