Crowdfixing: Improving Transit with Social Media
Posted January 30, 2013
The internet is an integral part of mobility these days, regardless of the method one uses to travel: it can tell you what time your bus or train arrives, and where the nearest stop is. It can find you a ride from San Francisco to L.A. or Portland, or if you’re driving, find someone who can help pay for gas. And as I blogged about last month, it can even connect you with a nearby driver in real-time when you need to get across town. But can the web go beyond just making transportation easier for us, and actually improve the migraine-inducing daily commute?
Station art in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Tobias Lindman, Flickr.
The idea of a social, web-based platform that can help get our infrastructure fixed is not brand new. SeeClickFix, which launched in Connecticut in 2008, is a web tool that allows citizens to report neighborhood issues (e.g. graffiti, potholes, litter) and bring them to the attention of local officials, the community, and local media. By sidestepping local bureaucracies and creating accountability, the website has gotten over 125,000 issues fixed across the country. A Wall Street Journal article recently highlighted the power of peer networks like SeeClickFix as a fluid tool for progress.
This “crowdfixing” concept has also been applied specifically to transit, most notably in cities across Europe. FixMyTransport is a UK-based website that uses a similar platform to SeeClickFix, letting residents voice their concerns about underperforming routes and unpleasant stations in British cities. The website’s platform uses critical mass to turn time-consuming transit nitpicking into effective lobbying. Collaborative approaches to improving infrastructure have also gained steam in Amsterdam and Vienna.
In the U.S., where vehicle miles travelled (VMT) is steadily declining while transit usage grows, cities should be taking note of the fact that convenient transportation options are becoming a major consideration for prospective residents –particularly younger ones. Thus, investing in keeping public transit reliable and reputable is an economic development strategy that cities can’t afford to ignore.