Role of Social Media in Communicating Transit Disruptions

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, technology - intelligent transport systems, ridership - behaviour


transit service disruptions, Communication technology, social media, Hurricane Sandy, New York


Communication with customers is important during transit service disruptions. Communication technology has changed significantly, and the use of social media has expanded greatly in the past 5 years. A majority of Americans who use the Internet use social media for a significant portion of their days. Public transit agencies can enhance communication with customers through social media, particularly during major service disruptions such as severe weather events. A case study examined the way transit systems in the New York region used one social medium, Twitter, to communicate with customers during the service shutdown associated with Hurricane Sandy, an event that disrupted transit for weeks. As Hurricane Sandy approached and passed through the New York region, three major area transit agencies transmitted more messages on Twitter than during normal periods. These messages described the shutdown, storm damage, and recovery actions of these transit systems. Large increases in followers of transit agency Twitter accounts were observed around the time of Hurricane Sandy, as well as Hurricane Irene and Winter Storm Nemo; this increased activity demonstrated the value of social media for transit agencies during severe weather disruptions. Social media sites, particularly Twitter, allow agencies to transmit more information with more control of content and timing compared with conventional communications channels. Furthermore, customers can communicate back to public transit officials with the same service and provide situational reports and user feedback. Research directions are identified to enhance the understanding of the value and potential in regard to social media for transit agencies.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.