London and Twitter launch world’s first travel alert system using ‘tweets’

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London has become the first city in the world to pilot a new information system using the Twitter online social networking service, which will provide live notifications of severe delays directly to customers’ mobiles or computers to alert them more quickly.

Transport for London (TfL) and Twitter have begun piloting a world-first service whereby customers will be automatically alerted of severe delays on key London Underground and TfL rail services as soon as they occur, helping them to avoid disruption. This is the first time that California-based Twitter has partnered with a transport authority to provide live travel information to customers using this innovative approach. The pilot, developed exclusively with Twitter, will allow anyone who follows any combination of four existing TfL Twitter feeds (London Overground, TfL Rail, Central line and District line) to be able to opt-in to receive instant notifications about severe disruption.

Currently, obtaining live travel information via Twitter means having to visit the relevant account or searching through a timeline for the latest tweets. This pilot will, for the first time, allow notifications to be sent straight to customers’ mobile devices while they are on the move, or direct to their computer, free of charge, as a ‘Direct Message’. Customers can also tailor their notifications by selecting the time periods that they would like to receive alerts, meaning they can avoid unnecessary alerts outside of commuting hours, or at weekends, if they do not need them. TfL will be assessing feedback from the pilot over the summer and, dependent on customer feedback, the service could be extended to TfL Twitter feeds for nine other London Underground lines and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). It may also extend to TfL Travel Alerts, which are used to warn drivers of disruption on key road corridors.

“The reliability of TfL services is at a record high, but disruption does sometimes occur. Getting the latest travel information direct to customers when and where they want it is key to enabling them to avoid delays,” explained Phil Young, head of online services at TfL. “Millions of Londoners use apps powered by our free open data, alongside our website, to check the Tube, find a bus or see how the roads are running, and this world-first partnership with Twitter is a fantastic way of ensuring our data helps keep our customers informed.”

Dara Nasr, managing director of Twitter UK, said, “Twitter is used by millions of Londoners every day to get live travel updates. We’re incredibly excited to be partnering with TfL to make it more simple and convenient for commuters to receive important news about their journey. Up-to-the-minute information around severe disruption is a daily must-have for everyone, and the live nature of Twitter is the perfect companion for this. We’re committed to continuing to make Twitter the simplest everyday utility to access key public information, be that transport or beyond.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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