Photo via the Sustainable Cities Collective.
India is a young nation. More than half of its 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25, and two-thirds are below 35. According to an estimate, 85 percent of young India is connected through social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Therein lies an enormous opportunity for public transit authorities to reach out and get connected to this large, young audience through social media. High quality transport facilities are not enough – cities must effectively communicate about these systems to inform, attract, and encourage users.
iBus, the newly launched Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, has pioneered a new beginning in the promotion of public transport in India through social networking with Facebook. The iBus system is operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd (AICTSL), a Special Purpose Vehicle to operate and manage public transport services in the city of Indore.
The official Facebook page regularly posts news updates, maps of routes, fare collection information, photos of BRT passengers, and also replies to queries posted by followers. The administrator of iBus page encourages users to submit suggestions, ideas, complaints, and appreciation for the system.
This is a progressive and welcome development to popularize and promote public transport systems. Unfortunately, branding and marketing of public transport projects have been a low priority for Public Transport Authorities in India despite the immense value in creating a sense of ownership among bus users.
The next step would be having regular bus updates, detour information, promotional events, exciting contests, hangouts with officials, celebrity chats, and other online activities to keep the bus passengers and new audience engaged and informed.
MyBus utilizes social media and clear branding
MyBus BRTS, operated by Bhopal City Link Limited, started its trial run of BRT in June, 2013. It also has registered its social media presence by creating a dedicated Facebook page with its brand name MyBus. The Facebook page has regular updates on trial runs, seminars and conferences on BRT, awareness videos on BRT, and trial run photo essay.
However, it is still in its nascent stage. The page needs regular content which is informative, engaging, and empowering for the users. MyBus daily announcements on bus timings, routes, and other user-friendly information can be shared through its social media platforms. The content should be visually alluring making it easy to understand for others.
Popular BRTS Systems In Gujarat Have No Official Social Media Presence
The successful Janmarg (In English, “Peoples’ Way”), the BRT in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which has won national and international accolade, has no official presence on social networking sites like Facebook and twitter.
Janmarg was launched in October, 2009, by Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, but even after four years of Janmarg operation in Ahmedabad there is no dedicated Facebook Page and Twitter handle.
Though there is no official Janmarg Facebook page, an unofficial group handled by Raja Nageswaran, a BRT enthusiast from Ahmedabad, boasts more than 2,000 members. However, the group is not active as it used to be in the past. Nageswaran is hopeful and “willing to share administrative rights if the Ahmedabad BRT accepts the group and makes it an official one.”
Janmarg authorities needs to invest time and energy to come up with a robust official BRTS page for its users. This will immensely help in gathering user feedback on the existing system, and also help in maintaining the positive image of the BRTS. Janmarg’s official debut on social media platforms will only add to its popularity and wider outreach among young users.
The Way Ahead for BRT in India
Social media is the fastest growing medium of mass communication in India and is considered reliable, as some say in India: “twitter is faster than earthquakes”. Public transport authorities like many other corporate brands should start utilizing this new medium to promote transportation systems like BRT, which is fast, efficient and reliable.
The power of social media is immense and it can create a healthy two-way communication between public transport authorities and public transit users. However, this approach requires a committed effort and consistency in sharing the information and updates on social media platforms, mostly on bus timing, change of routes, or any major construction work on the route.
Global examples like Rea Vaya Bus transit, a BRT system in Johannesburg, uses Facebook and Twitter extensively to promote closer relationships and information sharing with daily bus passengers. In India, Jaipur Traffic Police are making the best use of social media platforms like Facebook to keep the citizens updated on traffic situations in the city. Most of the information shared is on real time basis.
The costs involved to manage social media platforms are miniscule as compared to expensive traditional media, such as print, TV, or large billboards.
Government agencies in India, especially cities with upcoming and running BRT systems should start investing their time and energy to popularize BRT initiatives through well-planned social media strategy to attract the urban and upwardly mobile city dwellers in addition to providing a world class BRT infrastructure.