Twitter vs. timetable – Social Media As Mobility Information System In Public Transport

Tamara Vlk

Sufficient information on public transport – especially in terms of unpredictable events – is hardly feasible with current mobility information systems in the Vienna (Austria) region. Due to high costs and lack of reliability of current methods of data collection (and provision) an increased need for alternative methods is given. Status messages on social media like Facebook and Twitter are increasing across smartphone users of all milieus. These (public) status messages can contain information about public transport conditions or personal sentiments. Such status messages provide a higher amount of real-time information and high density event detection. Compared to other mobility information systems, social media provides valuable first-hand and real-time information on public transport networks. Public transport users as well as service’s providers can benefit of this information.

For ensuring time- and money-efficiency in terms of mobility in public space, people often require (real-time) information on transport services and various conditions (e.g. schedules, network maps). Usually this information is provided by public transport providers or service operators. Digital devices such as monitors or journey planners simplify short-term journey planning. Information is generated on the basis of static schedules or dynamic physical sensors at infrastructures or in vehicles. However, sufficient real-time information for public transport especially in the secondary network is hardly feasible with current methods of data collection and on-time (publicly) distribution. Furthermore, the distribution of precise real-time travel information depends on characteristics of available channels. Conventional mobility information systems such as maps or digital screens e.g. show limits in terms of accuracy and timeliness. Therefor an increased need for alternative methods to generate travel information within the network of public transport is given. Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter seem to be adequate mobility information systems for compensating weaknesses in terms of real-time travel information.

It was assumed that social media represent a complementary addition to traditional mobility information systems, especially in terms of short-term and un-known deviations of timetables within the network of public transport. Users of public transport as well as service providers can be generators and distributors of such real-time information. Furthermore, both parties (providers and users) could easily receive actual travel information generated by “cheap” social sensors. The use of such multidirectional channels could guarantee more flexible, detailed and multi-lingual information flows.