The Bay Area transit system was unusually candid in their responses to rider complaints.
(TNS) -- Twitter, usually a fast-flowing river of mostly meaningless information, became much more for the folks at BART on Wednesday night as the transit agency’s account found itself responding to scores of customers angry about a major service disruption.
But the social media exchange led to a surprisingly candid, and sometimes humorous, conversation on the adversity facing the beleaguered system.
The tweet that seemed to kick it all off came after one customer complained that disruptions to service, like the one that knocked out 50 cars Wednesday and prompted the closure of the Pittsburg/Bay Point station, have come to be expected.
That tweet was retweeted more than 600 times, the type of virality usually associated with cat memes and celebrity gossip as opposed to the accounts of regional transit agencies.
That was just the jump off, though, as the account bantered back and forth for the next several hours with BART officials patiently explaining the situation to angry users and even pushing back on assertions the people behind the account thought were specious. Much of the conversation took place with the hashtag #ThisIsOurReality.
@tquad64 Planners in 1996 had no way of predicting the tech boom - track redundancy, new tunnels & transbay tubes are decades-long projects.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
@kettering No - sugarcoating problems, especially ones obviously disrupting people's lives, isn't an effective or honest way to communicate.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
@ladyfox14 Bad theory - overnight hrs are the only time we can do maintenance without disrupting service. BART wasn't built w/ extra tracks.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
@jalrobinson We don't consider successfully moving the equivalent of the population of Atlanta through BART on a daily basis a failure.— SFBART (@SFBART) March 17, 2016
Taylor Huckaby, the man behind the keyboard Wednesday evening, said there was no executive decision made to change the tone and, in fact, he’s been working to make the BART Twitter feed more conversational for some time.
“Government is often cautious to a fault,” he said. “Twitter is not a medium for shouting into the dark, it’s conversational.”
At points throughout the evening, the @SFBART account delved into such wide-ranging topics as urban development and planning, infrastructure investment, the gross cloth seats recently removed from BART cars, the lack of 24-hour service and previous projects, which some have panned as unnecessary expenditures for an agency with limited funds.
Huckaby said it’s taken him a while to get to a point where he can answer questions on the fly about the complexities of urban mass transit funding and infrastructure.
“In my development as a social media manager, I’ve reached the point where I feel comfortable answering people’s questions,” he said. “It allows government to have more of a fireside chat moment.”
The Internet being what it is, Huckaby saw his fair share of hateful tweets aimed at the BART account, but it comes with the territory, he said.
“That’s the nature of social media,” he added. “There’s a lot of negativity on social media, but I believe in the good of public transportation.”
BART’s Twitter response was notable enough that the social media platform created a “moment”—a feature usually reserved for major sporting events and breaking news—where the most widely shared tweets were collected.
BART has never been the most transparent agency. Recently, officials only revealed that most of the security cameras on BART trains were fake after an investigation by The Chronicle. It’s also worth noting the agency is considering asking voters to approve a bond measure of up to $3.5 billion for expansion and infrastructure improvements.
The conversation wasn’t meant to drum up support for the bond measure, though, as public agencies aren’t allowed to advocate for such things. Huckaby said that BART is in desperate need of funds, but that his job is only to correct misinformation.
“It wasn’t strategic,” he said. “We can’t advocate. We can only educate, but to see people talking about the bond on their own was heartening.”
It was an intense evening for Huckaby. Once things got rolling, he did his best to respond to as many tweets as he could, staying up into the wee hours of Thursday morning. One especially bright spot for him, though, came when Metro Los Angeles tweeted in solidarity with BART, fittingly in the form of an animated gif.
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