Newsflash: Social Media in Transport isn’t the cutting edge anymore

March 26 2015

Three years ago Dr John Walker of the University of Southampton put together a seminar for us on using social media in transport.  The event was hosted by BAE Systems in London and was very well attended and lively.

We thought the time had come to revisit the topic and again John kindly helped us organise a seminar, this time hosted by the Transport Systems Catapult in Milton Keynes.

We had a very good afternoon with talks by Yomp, Sanef Tolling, Commonplace, Passenger Frocus, Trapeze and Transport for London.  But the feel of the day was completely different from three years earlier.  That event consisted of people talking about research and trials they were involved in, and about half of the content was not just new to most of the audience but also quite hard to grapple with.  The technologies, their application and the user scenarios were quite alien to a mainstream ITS audience.  That was why we did it – to enable our core membership to get an overview of what was then a new and cutting edge area of ITS – using social media to both disseminate and collect transport related information and data.  The speakers obviously believed that they were on to the next big thing but I would bet that quite a few audience members thought this was the latest hot transport topic which would turn out to be a cul de sac – bio fuels, anyone?

Last week’s event showed that on this occasion the evangelists were right and the doubters had it wrong.  We had six examples of social media being used in surface transport in an entirely mainstream, no fuss, ordinary way.  As a user, you may use an app or access a website, and it is just part of your travel routine.  The service providers are only doing what thousands of suppliers are doing not just in transport but in many other sectors too, and no longer think of themselves as pioneers.

Just a couple of examples:  Commonplace use the data people provide for instance by tweeting  or posting on Facebook, to establish how users are experiencing public transport.  This information is valuable to operators, who of course know how many people are on their network at any time, due to the use of electronic ticketing, and can try to guess how they feel about the service by looking at CCTV and seeing things like crowding, litter, obstructions and so on.  But they can get much more accurate information by as it were eavesdropping on their customers.  Not one by one, which would be too huge a task to be cost effective, but aggregated by Commonplace’s services.

Another example from the seminar is Yomp and their work using gamification to create behaviour change in travellers.  By combining gamification with behavioural economics, they are able to design bespoke services for clients who may want their workforce to choose a certain mode of travel to work, or generally encourage healthy behaviour such as a more active lifestyle.  Users can work towards personal targets, they can join up in teams to compete against other teams, they can receive rewards … The main principle is that they must enjoy it, and Yomp have the case studies to show that it works.

We had many more good examples from the other speakers, but what the whole afternoon proved, was that social media are now an entirely normal part of the Intelligent Transport Systems toolbox.