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Subway Riders Bewail Loss of MTA Twitter Service Alerts

The MTA isn’t going along with Elon Musk’s new price tag for access, leaving some straphangers without the social media information source on their daily commutes.

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A commuter checks their phone at West 4th Street, April 28, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

When the MTA announced Thursday that it would no longer post real-time service updates on its Twitter feeds like @nyctsubway and @nyctbus “effective immediately,” the sudden departure left some of its million plus followers disappointed and in the dark.

Under owner Elon Musk, Twitter had started to charge for access to its API (application program interface), which is a must-have for the agency to operate its live updates. The API link would cost the MTA $50,000 a month under the new pricing structure

“The MTA does not pay tech platforms to publish service information,” said acting chief customer officer Shanifah Rieara in a statement, adding that “the reliability of the platform can no longer be guaranteed.”

Amid the turmoil of Musk’s takeover, THE CITY reported in November on the possibility of government entities leaving Twitter or the site becoming inoperative, leaving customers with one less source of up-to-the-minute information.

On Friday, MTA officials downplayed the loss of Twitter service alerts. The agency noted that only about 15% of its customer interactions occurred via Twitter and that there are other “redundant tools,” including the MyMTA app, website, text alerts, and screens within the stations. 

“[Twitter is] a relatively small percentage of our customer interaction” and “we have so many other avenues that riders use to communicate with us,” said MTA chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber at a budget press conference at Union Square. 

‘I Don’t Use Twitter for Much Else’

Many riders were already missing the efficiency of the MTA’s Twitter alerts on Friday afternoon. 

Nicole Colombo, 41, from Middle Village, said in an email to THE CITY that she regularly takes the M, L, and R trains to commute into Midtown Manhattan and always found that “the Twitter account is most reliable.”

She claims she once even used it to get help during a medical emergency.

“One time a woman passed out on my train at West 4th Street,” wrote Colombo, “and I tweeted for help and it came within five minutes because of that Tweet, I truly believe!”

Colombo and other riders vented about the unreliability of the MTA’s communication efforts. Losing the feed, they say, will make matters worse. 

“This is just going to be bad all around for New Yorkers commuting, as if the MTA doesn’t already suck as is,” she said. 

Louis Santiago, a 25-year-old restaurant manager who was interviewed for THE CITY’s previous story, agreed: “The MTA already has bad enough communication with riders as it is.” 

When he learned of the sudden departure from Twitter, he said, “My mind was blown.”

“When something like that gets cut off abruptly without notice, it’s putting us in a really hard pinch,” he continued. “The MTA app doesn’t work. I tried using WhatsApp two years ago when they first launched it, and they didn’t answer,” he said, referring to the MTA’s efforts to communicate with riders on the messaging platform owned by Meta.

“There’s really no way to find out information that we need,” Santiago said.

His commute from Bay Ridge to Hudson Yards — taking the R train to catch a D or N express train — requires planning, he said. He relied on the MTA’s Twitter alerts to help “readjust based on what I need to do to get home.” 

But in just one day without the Twitter feed, he already missed a connecting train.

“Had I known, I would’ve jiggered things another way,” he said. “Now it’s basically a free-for-all. It’s like, figure it out.” 

Yoseph Goldstein, 46, of Forest Hills, told THE CITY that MTA updates were the main reason he subscribed to Twitter in the first place: “I don’t use Twitter for much else.” 

He often takes the M and R trains to Downtown Brooklyn and said Twitter helped give him a picture — literally — of what to expect on his commute. 

Goldstein said he often looked at photos of what was happening in the stations and read replies and interactions between customers. Without those real-time visuals, he worried that accountability and transparency from the MTA is lost: “You’re never gonna see a picture of a homeless person, a picture of crap, a fistfight on video,” he said. 

Goldstein said he understands the problems within Twitter but also feels the MTA is “getting away from the embarrassment of the subway not always being fully functional.”

“It’s very frustrating,” he said, “and I feel the commutes are gonna become worse because I’m not as educated.”

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