NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several New York City underground trains came to a halt just after midnight Thursday as emergency services attended to a person spotted on the tracks in Manhattan.
The delays were reported to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rail control centre, where a customer service representative put out a simple caution for early-morning travellers to explore other routes.
While the message was quickly posted to the MTA’s website and app, it never made it to the subway system’s 1 million-follower Twitter account. Twitter abruptly stopped the agency’s access to the platform’s back end, authorities discovered.
It was the MTA’s second such breakdown in two weeks, and the reaction was swift. Senior officials decided Thursday afternoon to stop issuing service warnings on the site entirely.
The decision places the country’s main transit network among an increasing list of accounts, from National Public Radio to Elton John, that have curtailed or departed Twitter since Elon Musk’s acquisition.
It also caught passengers and some MTA employees off guard, even though at least one other transportation agency explored doing the same.
“The train schedule is always off.” It’s handy to have all the information in one place,” bemoaned Brandon Gubitosa, a Queens resident who claimed he checks the MTA’s Twitter page for service updates before leaving for his journey each morning.
“Twitter should bear some responsibility for ensuring that this service does not vanish.”
Twitter, for its part, has hinted that the days of private accounts sharing troves of information for free may be coming to an end. The firm introduced a new pricing scheme last month that will charge for access to its application programming interface, or API, which is used by accounts that publish regular notifications, such as transportation and weather organisations.
According to MTA officials, the cost may be as much as $50,000 each month. Paying that much-raised issue is difficult for a transportation agency facing a multibillion-dollar deficit.
“The amount that is being posed is astronomical,” said Shanifah Rieara, interim chief customer officer for the MTA. “We’re all about restoring ridership.” We should not be paying to notify our consumers about service outages.”
Those who refuse to pay, Twitter warned, will see their service “deprecate,” a process that some agencies claim is already underway.
A spokeswoman for the Chicago Transit Authority confirmed that the notifications were being phased out, citing Twitter’s “diminished” efficiency for real-time transit information.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit System said on Friday that its notifications were momentarily inaccessible owing to technical challenges, while a spokeswoman stated that the issue will be resolved shortly.
Aside from the pricing, MTA officials cited increased vitriol and a shift away from a chronological timeline as reasons for leaving Twitter.
They also mentioned a wish to direct users to existing in-house products that give the same information regarding service interruptions, such as the MYmta and TrainTime applications. They give subway and commuter train schedules, respectively.
Twitter’s communications staff was contacted for comment. Twitter just answered with an automatic response.
The MTA’s decision to reduce its use of Twitter comes as many institutional users grapple with changes Musk has implemented in an effort to make the service profitable, such as charging users for checkmarks on their accounts that previously served as a form of identity verification.
On New York City’s massive rail and bus system, where mechanical problems, track fires, repair work and other issues can cause tube trains to be delayed or diverted to lines where they don’t normally run, service alerts are invaluable tools.
Riders were often kept in the dark about changes until they arrived at tube stations, when transport officials would yell announcements over tinny speakers or post paper placards indicating changes.
Information regarding service, including real-time tube car location, is now accessible through a number of electronic sources, both on people’s cellphones and at stations. According to consumer research, tube riders seeking information on Twitter account for a very small proportion of all riders.
According to an authority official, more than 3 million people visited the MTA’s webpage last month, which also includes alerts on service interruptions that were previously available on Twitter, and roughly 2 million others utilised the two apps.
Aside from service alerts, the MTA’s customer service agents use Twitter to provide real-time responses to questions and concerns — a back-and-forth that frequently serves to calm riders’ frayed nerves.
According to Rachael Fauss, senior policy adviser at the watchdog organisation Reinvent Albany, the agency blasted out 21,000 tweets last month, providing a useful public window into the MTA’s customer service strategy.
“There was a personalization to it that was interesting,” Fauss added. “There’s an opportunity to see how the MTA responds to riders that you don’t get without Twitter.”
For the time being, the agency has said that it will continue to reply to consumers through Twitter. However, officials acknowledged that there were no guarantees that this would continue in the long run.
“The MTA gets blamed for a lot of things, so we need a dependable and resilient way of communicating,” Rieara said. “At this point in (Twitter’s) development, we can’t put our customers in the position of guessing whether or not they have the most up-to-date information.”