'@Caltrain Sucks': New Frontiers in Transit Agency Social Media

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Caltrain arriving in Mountain View on October 12, 2013.

Just last month, BART -- or should we say @SFBART -- sent out a tweet that rocked the world for social media pundits and at least some customers.

Amid a service meltdown in the East Bay, the BART Twitter account let it be known that yes, the system's infrastructure was old, frayed and kind of screwed up.

"This is our reality" became a mini-meme and hashtag, touched off a mostly thoughtful conversation with the system's riders and made Taylor Huckaby, the BART employee who works the @SFBART account, a bit of a celebrity.

The general tenor of the ensuing coverage was laudatory: Just imagine a public agency being so real with the public! (Not everyone was buying BART's "truth bombs," though. Daniel Borenstein, a columnist for the East Bay WhateverYouCallIt who has long been a bruising critic of BART management, called the tweets "diversionary propaganda.")


Anyway. That was last month. BART has run for several weeks with its usual crowding, normal delays and a mishap involving a brand-new train car. #ThisIsOurReality is all but forgotten.

Now another Bay Area transit agency is upping the ante for social media attention.

On Thursday, the guy running the official account for Caltrain noticed a tweet from someone who was debating whether to drive up the Peninsula to San Mateo, a trip that would take 48 minutes, or take the train, which would take 18 minutes. Here's how @Caltrain responded:

The message there, of course, is that "Caltrain doesn't suck, and you'd be crazy to drive."

Caltrain's gambit, as explained in a series of exchanges with Twitter followers who expressed amazement that the account had not been hacked, aimed to promote a conversation about its service. And the conversation included some @SFBART-like straight talk about the agency's shortcomings, along with customer surprise and gratitude:

Screenshot of Twitter conversation between @Caltrain and some of its followers.
Screenshot of Twitter conversation between @Caltrain and some of its followers. (Twitter screenshot)

Caltrain spokesman Will Reisman confirmed Friday that the @Caltrain tweets were real and originated with the agency's social media officer, Jeremy Lipps.

"The point is that Caltrain is a very reliable transportation source," Reisman said. "He was using wry humor and a little sarcasm to make that point."