Everyone's used to characters on the CTA. Now the CTA is using characters—about 140 of them—to its advantage.
The CTA on Thursday celebrated the one-month anniversary of its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Since it launched its social media presence on Nov. 1, the CTA has garnered more than 3,400 Twitter followers and more than 4,700 likes on its Facebook page.
"We believe this is a valuable resource for customers," said Brian Steele, the new CTA director of communications and media relations, who regularly updates the agency's social media outlets with a few other CTA employees.
The CTA began tweeting modestly. Its first message was: "An official announcement from the CTA: Hello."
Slowly, the agency began to gain its footing. It started tweeting about unscheduled train delays and bus reroutes and responding to rider questions and comments.
It picked up steam last month, when the holiday train started its annual run. The agency tweeted the train's exact location and encouraged riders to take photos of the train.
The CTA conducted a survey last month about its social media habits and found many of the 60 riders who participated were interested in train and bus updates on Twitter.
On Facebook, the CTA focuses on more general information such as posting photos of stations that have been deep cleaned and video of the new 5000-series rail cars with the aisle-facing seats.
Steele said the CTA reviewed comments on its Facebook post last month announcing the CTA was beginning an open-fare system—where riders will be able to use their debit or credit cards to pay transit fares. The concerns were addressed in the CTA's "frequently asked questions" page for the program.
"Facebook, we've had longer, more detailed conversations," Steele said. "Twitter, we've had more up-to-the-minute conversations."
Unlike some companies, the CTA doesn't follow its customers on Twitter. On Monday afternoon, the agency was following 37 Twitter users, mostly feeds of city departments and other transit systems.
By not following its customers, riders are not able to send private messages to the CTA about their problems. Steele said when riders have issues that include sensitive information, such as a Chicago Card account, they are encouraged to e-mail CTA customer service directly.
The CTA is still working on the foundation of its social media, including its voice, Steele said. The agency is looking into including posts from its president, Forrest Claypool, who told Going Public last month he isn't too familiar with "Twittering."
Steele said the CTA also hopes to educate its readership about general transportation issues by posting stories about other transit agencies and the U.S. transportation industry as a whole.
"But perhaps most importantly, we're using both our Twitter and Facebook accounts to listen to our customers," Steele said.
Free rides on New Year's Eve
Miller Lite announced Monday it is again providing free shuttle bus service from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., on New Year's Eve, in the Loop and on the North Side. Go to millerlitefreerides.com for more information.
Track the holiday train
The CTA holiday train will travel Wednesday on the Pink Line and Thursday through Saturday on the Blue Line. Go to redeyechicago.com/holidaytrain to upload your holiday train snaps.
My pledge to ride every CTA bus line continues. I rode the No. 62H-Archer/Harlem last week and boiled my review down to a tweet.
@tracyswartz 34 mins from Midway Orange Line stop to 63rd/Archer. A leisurely stroll to Summit. Runs about every 30 minutes. Slowed by school traffic.
136 routes down, 3 to go!
Next up: No. 81W-West Lawrence.