In the year 2017, if you want to complain, you go to social media. A whole industry there is built on rating what rocks and what sucks, and that includes the way you get around your city. Online, there's often not a lot of love for Guelph Transit, so I was curious, where do other municipalities stand when it comes to interacting with their customers online? It turns of that Guelph Transit is a leader in that regard.
In doing a census of public transit's online engagement, I started by looking at Facebook and Google, as both offer a way for users to rate a transit service, as well as offer written reviews. Upon further research though, there were a significant number of transit Facebook pages that didn't offer a way to rate the system, but they did allow for that written feedback. Ultimately, I also looked at which transit systems had a presence on Twitter as well, since Twitter offered a quick and easy way for transit users to connect with transit operators, supervisors and managers.
So having set the parameters I looked at Ontario's 61 public transit systems; 60 municipally-run systems plus GO Transit. Out of all those systems, 22 didn't have a Facebook page, Twitter account, or were reviewed on Google. Of the other 39, 16 had a presence on at least one of the sites in question, 17 had two, and a total of six transit systems had all three, including our own Guelph Transit.
On Facebook, various transit systems are actually well represented. Of the public transit services in Ontario, over half - 34 in all - have Facebook pages, and another 13 Facebook pages exist for separate transit services, transit terminals, or represent groups concerned with the operation of their local transit system.
Now not all Facebook pages are created equally. Of those 47 various pages, 13 of them are listed as "Unofficial", meaning that they are not managed in any official capacity by anyone from the transit service the page represents, and in many cases, those pages are started by users looking for an outlet for their frustrations. Of the 26 pages that offer users a chance to rate the system, three of them are are labelled as either "complaint" or "feedback" pages.
In terms of the types of Facebook pages, they run the gamut starting with 12 of the 47 pages that are listed as "Transportation Service". Coming in second place in terms of the most used classification is "Government Organization" with six, while there's a two-way tie for third between "Government" and "Bus Station" with five each. Things become even more diverse next with six different classifications getting two pages each including "Terminal", "Tour Agency", "Community", "Cargo and Freight Company", "Public and Government Service" and no classification. "Community Service", "Complaint Group", "Train Station", "Organization", "Local Business", "Public Service" and "Group-Feedback" has one page each.
For the record, the Guelph Transit Facebook page is one of the 12 listed as "Transportation Service". The rating our transit system has on its Facebook page is 1.6 out of 5 from 155 reviews, the fifth highest number of ratings out of 26 pages that have star ratings; only GO Transit, Grand River Transit (Waterloo Region), Metrolinx (the administrator of GO's services) and MiWay (Mississauga Transit) have more reviews on their pages. Interestingly, some major transit systems don't give users a chance to rate them on their Facebook page including the Toronto Transit Commission, OC Transpo (Ottawa Transit), VIVA (York Region Transit), and the London Transit Commission (in London, ON).
Looking to Twitter, 27 transit systems had accounts, but there are a couple of caveats. Two of the accounts are "unofficial", user generated for complaints or the sharing of information. Hamilton and Sudbury are the two transit systems with "unofficial" accounts. A third account, the one for the London Transit Commission, explicitly says on their Twitter page that it's "not monitored". In addition to its GO Transit account, Metrolinx has a separate account for itself, and while Barrie Transit doesn't have a Twitter page, the City of Barrie directs people to its Twitter account for transit news and updates.
In terms of followers, GO Transit has the most followers with over 637,000, with the TTC coming in second with over 339,000. OC Transpo has the third most with nearly 34,000 Twitter followers, in fourth is Metrolinx with just over 26,000, and VIVA is in a distant fifth place with 6,635 followers. Where does Guelph Transit fall? In eighth place with - as of this past weekend - 4,200 followers. That's just 300 followers behind seventh place Brampton Transit, which is especially notable when Brampton Transit moves on average about 70,000 people per day versus 20,000 daily on Guelph Transit.
On the other hand, 12 of 28 Twitter accounts had less than 1,000 followers, and seven of those had less than 500. The transit system with the least number of followers is Cornwall Transit with 45.
Of course, if anyone's trying to look up a transit system for the first time, they're probably going to Google it, and when you do Google Ontario's 61 public transit systems, only 17 of them result in users actually rating those services, and not just the systems themselves. For instance, there's no rating out of five for either Stratford or Woodstock Transit, but the Stratford VIA Train station has a rating, as does the Woodstock Bus Terminal. Also, both Belleville Transit and the Belleville Train Station are rated on Google, but the Train Station has four-times as many reviews; three for Transit versus 12 for the train station.
The average rating on Google for these transit systems and locations is 2.76 out of 5, but there's a huge curve. Breaking down the numbers, six of the 17 had less than five reviews, four had between 5 and 20 reviews, six had between 20 and 100 reviews, and only one had more that 100 reviews and that was the London Transit Commission with 102. Guelph Transit had the sixth most reviews with 28, as Guelph Transit users give the system an average rating of 1.4 stars out of 5.
The world of social media though is not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Google, but not many transit systems have seemed to want to take that next step further. GO Transit, the TTC, VIVA, and OC Transpo all use YouTube and Instagram in addition to the three social media platforms I looked at. In another interesting note, at least one public transit system was rated on Yelp and Trip Advisor, and that's WeGo, which is a tourist-centric bus service that is offered by Niagara Falls Transit.
So what does this prove? Despite the local disappointment in Guelph Transit, there is at least some advanced effort to create some direct communication between Transit users and the Transit office. In that regard, it seems like more transit systems in Ontario might be ale to learn from Guelph Transit's example...