BART has commuters all a-Twitter

Somewhere on a BART train, a guy is watching Lord of the Rings on a tiny screen that could never capture the panoramic majesty of the film.

In San Francisco, a woman waxes nostalgic about her first BART ride as a Walkman-wearing 14-year-old while a Seattle man types, simply, “You don’t even know how much I miss you :D.”

Since Aug. 1, Bay Area Rapid Transit riders have been providing dispatches from the trenches to BART officials and other passengers through twitter.com. The free microblogging and social-networking site, developed by San Francisco start-up Obvious and launched two years ago, allows users to exchange real-time updates of what they’re doing with their friends — so long as the descriptions are under 140 characters.

In less than two weeks, BART’s Twitter page, at www.twitter.com/sfbart, has attracted 282 followers. BART spokesman Jim Allison says the transit system’s marketing department replies to most messages, called tweets. Directing a woman complaining about stinky trains to the customer service department and providing links to BART’s Warm Springs extension project are all in a day’s work on Twitter.

In joining and responding to companies through Twitter, BART joins the ranks of shoe retailer Zappos.com, cable company Comcast and Whole Foods market. Caltrain has two unofficial Twitter feeds run by a passenger, who updates fellow riders on delays and the status of bike cars.

BART officials say they joined the site as a bit of an experiment. They knew it wouldn’t be the most efficient way to provide service updates. They envisioned it, they say, as a sort of “virtual water cooler” where riders could talk to each other, and to BART.

“We wanted to create a sense of community,” Allison said. “We know that to many people, it’s more than a utility, it’s a Bay Area icon.”

The venture into microblogging is the latest in a series of tech-savvy public-outreach tools BART has employed, including BARTtv
“Webisodes” about BART news, widgets that provide service advisories on users’ computer desktops, RSS feeds and real-time information that can be sent to cell phones and e-mail addresses.

“The Twitter demographics may be a little younger than our average rider, but who knows,” Allison said. “This is the Bay Area, it’s a high-tech, ahead-of-the-curve place, and I think our ridership reflects that.”

Muni has no immediate plans to join Twitter, spokeswoman Kristen Holland said. However, plans are in the works to make its Web site more user-friendly, she said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

How to find transit on Twitter

BART’s high-tech outreach

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