Quick fix: Riders (and PR pros) have some comms advice for the MTA

Disgruntled New Yorkers, who also happen to be PR pros, share their thoughts on how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can mend its relationship with riders.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Among the millions of disgruntled, and routinely late, New Yorkers who regularly ride the city’s subway system, is a small percentage who are PR pros. They, too, have experienced the nonsensical posters about planned construction, barely audible intercom announcements, and the lack of any communication whatsoever when a train is stuck in a tunnel (sometimes for hours at a time).

Fortunately for PRWeek readers, though probably not for the subway riders themselves, the countless delays have given them plenty of time to ponder a communications fix for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Here’s their advice for fixing communications on the country’s biggest subway system.

Prioritize customer communications
Some speculate that the poor state of the subway has been the norm for so long that many commuters are "no longer up in arms about it," says Dini von Mueffling, founder and CEO of Dini von Mueffling Communications.

"At this point, I would prefer to get annoyed by constant over-communication than the lack of updates we receive now," adds subway rider Chandler Smith, an account coordinator at Coyne PR. 

The MTA should prioritize comms inside subway cars and on platforms since cellular service can be spotty underground, say experts. It should also more proactively send alerts and updates on delays and outages and make more announcements at subway stations and on trains, Smith advises. And it should invest in digitizing more subway platforms and providing accurate info to app partners.

"The MTA at least needs to ensure its own app has the most up-to-date info on all outages, delays, and track construction," says Jackson Jeyanayagam, CMO at wholesale delivery startup Boxed. "If I could rely on accurate info within an app or, at the very least, when I get to the platform if I see real-time info on a digital board before I swipe my card, that would make a huge difference."

Outside of stations, the MTA should start a weekly or monthly communique for riders outlining the tangible steps it is taking to improve the system, adds Flatiron Communications founder Peter Himler.

Make the rider-in-chief the top spokesman
MTA president Andy Byford should make himself more available to news organizations and riders in-person via town halls, advises Himler. Von Mueffling adds that Byford "seems like he really cares" about subway issues and should "absolutely be the face of trying to fix the problem through establishing a presence for him on social media."

She contends that New Yorkers know Byford didn’t create the problem and would "generously" help him solve it. The British-born Byford has previously run rapid-transit systems on three continents and is a 14-year veteran of the London Underground, where he served as GM of three of the network’s busiest lines, before acting as COO of Sydney’s transit system. Later, he spent five years as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, where he was credited for reducing delays and hitting record-high customer satisfaction marks.

"It would be wonderful to hear from [Byford] about what he's trying to do, what the challenges he faces are, and how he wants our help with them," says von Mueffling.

Go where the people are: social media
Who hasn’t felt surrounded by other riders constantly refreshing their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds? The MTA should revisit its social media strategy to engage riders on major platforms.

Surveying its social media accounts, von Mueffling notes that the organization’s Twitter handle is used solely for announcements of "70,000 per month delays," when they are happening, and when they are resolved. She calls its Facebook page a "wasted opportunity" with "hardly any users and boring content," and notes the MTA has 16,000 followers and unengaging content on Instagram. 

"How often do we see news stories about celebs riding the subway?" says von Mueffling. "The MTA should be commending them. Love stories: tell us about how you met and fell in love on the train. Tell us stories of heroism, of people coming together, of humanity."  

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