Since 2012 we’ve been providing service updates for all our Tube lines and other modes of transport through Twitter. Customers tell us it’s useful to know when disruption is impacting their journey, and this has been a key factor behind our social media followers reaching more than 4 million people.
On top of this, over 8,000 developers are using the open data in our Unified API to build apps that help our customers plan their journeys and avoid unnecessary delays, with over 42% of Londoners using around 500 apps powered by TfL’s open data.
What we wanted to do was bring these two things together, and use the open data in our API to alert our Twitter followers to disruption on our network that may affect their journey. We feel Twitter is the perfect platform to provide this service, offering an invaluable way of delivering the information in a way that’s concise and timely.
As part of our approach to working with leading technology partners such as Twitter, we’ve looked at feedback on social media and have also worked with our customer service team who currently give travel advice and help customers through our Tube and rail Twitter feeds. Through this work we’ve created a pilot system to provide alerts about major disruption through direct message notifications.
‘We are looking forward to trialling this new service, it will provide customers with timely updates which are consistent with our other services like apps and status boards at stations.’
Sam Whitmey, TfL First Contact team (customer services)
The pilot and how it works
On 9 June we opened with four of our key Twitter feeds – @centralline, @districtline, @LDNOverground and @TfLRail. On 20 June we opened up to all lines @bakerlooline, @circleline, @hamandcityline, @jubileeline, @metline, @northernline, @piccadillyline, @victorialine, @wlooandcityline and @LondonDLR.
We invite you to subscribe through http://tfl.gov.uk/twitter-alerts
To get started:
- Visit our webpage http://tfl.gov.uk/twitter-alerts and log in with your Twitter account
- Click on the ‘Get alerts’ button for the lines you would like to get notifications for
- If you would like to have alerts for your commute only, click on ‘Edit my alerts’, from here you will be able to choose days and times of the week (our default commute time is Mon-Fri 7-10am and 4-7pm)
Subscribers will be notified when a disruption means significant delays or an alternative route is required, and can then take action to re-plan their journey as necessary. To receive these alerts on your smartphone you will need to enable notifications.
Your subscription can be personalised with the following options:
- Edit the time period where alerts will be provide (your personal commute times)
- Subscribe or unsubscribe to other Tube and rail lines
‘Nobody likes delays but as the ultimate live news service Twitter has been working with TfL to keep people updated on their journey plans for a number of years. The introduction of our personalised Direct Message service takes it to the next level and means you’ll always be amongst the very first to know if there are issues affecting your commute.’
Sam Hodges, Communications, Twitter UK
The service is in addition to the existing team who take care of the Tube and rail Twitter feeds 24/7, and they will continue to be available to help.
Your feedback will be crucial to the outcomes of this pilot, and we really want you to let us know what you think of the service. If your feedback is positive, we will continue to work with Twitter to improve the service.
Please do ask questions on this pilot, as well as any feedback you have. Leave your feedback in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
Nice service, but I feel the permissions requested are too broad: “Read Tweets from your timeline”, “See who you follow, *and follow new people*”, “*Update your profile*”, “*Post Tweets for you*”. Not something I expect from a disruption broadcast service.
Hi Dan, thanks for your feedback. The permissions are part of how the service is setup using the Login with Twitter API and each permission is shown to you so you have full transparency. We will not tweet on your behalf or monitor your activity. Appreciate your feedback, let us know how you get on.
“Transparency” doesn’t give me much comfort. If the Twitter API is the problem, I suggest that you “work closely with Twitter” to fix their API. I was quite interested in this service until I found out about this aspect of it.
I agree with DanForys’s comment. I really like what you’re doing here, but I don’t like the read-and-write permissions.
For a public Twitter account “Read Tweets from your timeline” and “See who you follow…” are probably fine. But “…follow new people”, “Update your profile” and “Post Tweets for you” crosses a line for me.
Is it possible to achieve the results you’re after with the app’s access set to read-only?
Hi Neil, to achieve the necessary results we have the minimum permissions setup. For example, if a customer subscribes to five lines (and don’t already follow them) we need permission to ‘follow new people’ (which in this case are those TfL accounts). I know Twitter are looking at this and presume they will make it easier to understand in the future. Hope this helps. If you’re interested, tech details are on Twitter’s developer website https://dev.twitter.com/web/sign-in/implementing
the problem with the @LDNOverground feed is that it’s so generic because the LO network is now so large, and i woudl suspect that most journeys only use 1 or at most 2 lines. I constantly see messages about disruption on what i consider to be completely unrelated LO lines. Why don’t you separate out the LO lines (enfield/cheshunt/liverpool street, watford junction/euston, stratford/richmond, clapham/west croydon/highbury islington etc.). It’s very annoying to keep getting told of delays at old oak when i haven’t been near there for nearly 10 years 🙂
Hi Rob, thanks for your feedback. I understand where you’re coming from! We’re using services like Twitter and pilots like this to find more personalised ways of getting customers information that’s relevant and useful. Our aim is to provide information for your specific journey (rail, Tube, bus etc) and not just the bits of the lines you use. Appreciate your feedback and I hope this service becomes more useful as we refine and improve it.
Until you can tell where i am and predict where i’m going to go, as a user i would rather that you tell me about lines that interest me. For example, if there’s trouble on the victoria line, i take a different route home from work – but i don’t always go to the same office, and i dont really want to have to tell you every time i go anywhere. So, being able to set up alerts on specific routes across all (rail?) transports – like you can just for undergound – is really a good compromise.
perhaps one option might be to tie alerts with routes i commonly take (from my oyster/contactless card), and if i check out at a destination, alert me on my most common following route or routes (e.g. if i check out at waterloo, it’s likely that the next journy i take is the bakerloo to oxford circus and victoria line to seven sisters – so tell me if there’s trouble on that route).
I was also almost put off by the permissions – if I hadn’t just read this then I wouldn’t have agreed. You will probably find that it puts a lot of people off.
Looking forward to the Bus version I currently use Google Maps and the Live Bus Map to try to estimate (guess ?) how long my Bus journey to the station will take so I do not miss my train
Congratulations for the launch. Adding up on Rob Al’s comment, how about you let users give you a “from” and “to” stations. If there’s any disruption along those stops *then* you send the alert.
This is not to say the current provided alerting service should be suppressed. One could be interested in receiving alerts along a tube line entirely _as well as_ the stops which fall under the usual commuting path.
Hope it makes sense.
Hi Gatsby, thanks for your ideas. I can see how a specific stretch of line would be of interest to some people. Something we have to balance would be when disruption has occurred further down the line but will still have a knock on impact (for example an incident at Liverpool Street could increase busyness all along the route). We’re looking at further customisation including this. Keep the ideas coming! Thanks again.
It’s a great idea, and very useful. The only thing I would suggest with the Overground is making it line specific. I don’t need to know about the Gospel Oak-Barking line being closed, or delays on the High and I-Clapham Junction line, when I only ever use the Clapham Junction/Richmond-Stratford line.
Hi Sophie, thanks for your feedback. I agree. We’re looking at London Overground and how we can make it more specific. Thanks again and let us know how you get on.
The overground is too large to be getting alerts for all parts of it – each branch should have it’s own alerts.
Hi James, thanks for your feedback. I agree. We’re looking at London Overground and how we can make it more specific. Thanks again and let us know if you have any other thoughts.
A great new initiative, although it’ll probably take a major incident to see how helpful this is. I echo comments above regarding LO notifications being rather extensive due to the large nature of the network. I’ve also received the same scheduled engineering update three times in the past 24 hours, which doesn’t seem correct.
Hi Mark, we’re made various adjustments related to planned closures, there are a few tweaks remaining but generally it shouldn’t be an issue anymore. Let us know here how you get on.
The preferences seem not to be working. I put in commute and specific weekday hours but get ALL notifications 24/7.
Hi Anthony, thanks for this. Just want to let you know we’ve been making various edits and adjustments. I hope your commuting hours settings are fine now. If not, let us know here and we will find out what’s wrong. Cheers.
Your Overground notifications are very annoying, you have told me 7 times since I set up the service yesterday that the line between South Tottenhan and Barking and Gospel Oak and Barking will be closed, Why do you need to tell me 7 times in the space of 30hrs? Just once is all I need to know. The closures are till 2017, Can you imagine the number of notifications I will receive till then?
I have therefore had to remove Overground notifications or I will go barmy, especially as 1 was received at 4am???
Hi Andrew, we’re made various adjustments related to planned closures. We think the information is important however several times a day is just plain annoying. We’ve reduced the frequency so it shouldn’t be an issue anymore. Let us know here how you get on. Big apologies if any messages woke you up at night!
I think this is very good service. That fact that it is delivered as a direct message ensures you are aware of it and it is not caught up amongst other tweets on your time line and missed.
Hopefully H&C notifications will be added too as the tube part of my journey can be affected by that as well.
Hi Lorraine, thanks for the nice feedback. All Tube lines are available from today so go ahead and subscribe to the H&C notifications.
I’d like to be the umpteenth person to say that Overground alerts in their current form simply aren’t close enough to the lines I actually use.
I currently use the still functioning (just) TfL alerts service which predates the east London line but gives me a handy text every now and then. It lets you specify routes which is helpful. Really this should all be driven by oyster or contactless usage and be almost seamless.
Amusing overground maps on that service here:
Hi Alex, thanks for your feedback. I agree. We’re looking at London Overground and how we can make it more specific/relevant. As you can see the text service has been wound down. Thanks again and let us know if you have any other thoughts.
Give the user the option to receive alerts based on their *recent* oyster/contactless travel history (say 14 days, maybe even make it configurable) or alternatively let them supply a list of from/to destinations they are interested in.
Sure, backend integration is a bigger pain, but better than supplying the user with a list of ‘tick all the boxes and hope they align with your needs…’
Hi Alex, thanks for your ideas, I agree and we’re discussing things like this for the future. As you recognise these kind of integrations are a ‘pain’ (well, I’d prefer to describe them as ‘challenging’). We are very clear personalisation is important to customers, perhaps this other blog post will be interesting https://blog.tfl.gov.uk/2016/04/27/save-your-favourites-on-our-website/
Good idea – but so far it isn’t working well. Since the trial started where there has been a suspension of service or severe delays just a normal tweet has been sent out, no Twitter Alert. In addition, the London Overground account has gone into overdrive with the same Twitter Alert being issued multiple times – I see this has already been picked up by another reader.
Can you please look at publishing what the criteria are when a normal tweet will be issued and when a Twitter Alert will be issued?
Hi Neil, apologies for the issues you’ve experienced. With London Overground we’re tweaking the balance of information about planned closures (Gospel Oak – Barking https://tfl.gov.uk/status-updates/major-works-and-events/london-overground-closure) with the aim to be informative but not excessive. As we made refinements some data was missed meaning the normal ‘rules’ (instructions for when we share alerts) were not applied. Please give it another go, we’re still making some smaller adjustments but it should work better now. Appreciate your feedback. Let us know here how you get on. Cheers.
This is a great idea, but I won’t be using it until you sort out the unnecessarily invasive permissions. ‘Update your profile’ & ‘Post Tweets for you’ is to much.
Hi, to achieve necessary functionality we have the minimum permissions setup. For example, if a customer subscribes to five lines (and don’t already follow them) we need permission to ‘follow new people’. I know Twitter are looking at this and presume they will make it easier to understand in the future. Hope this helps. If you’re interested, tech details are on Twitter’s developer website https://dev.twitter.com/
How do you unlink your Twitter account to the alerts?
Hi, you can stop alerts by visiting http://tfl.gov.uk/twitter-alerts and clicking on ‘Edit my alerts’ on the lines, from there you can change the alerts from ‘always’, ‘commute only’ or stop. If you would like to entirely unlink the travel alerts service you can ‘revoke access’ from within Twitter by visiting https://twitter.com/settings/applications We welcome your feedback, do let us know here your thoughts. Cheers.
Great service immediate updates very impressed
Just to add another comment about the LDNOverground alerts; could they be a bit more specific to the parts of the line that I actually use? Whether this would mean splitting the line into sub-lines, where possible – e.g. Liverpool St > Cheshunt / Chingford or Barking > Gospel Oak or by some North/South/East/West distinction.
I really like the service and it is, as others have mentioned, useful to get notifications as a message so that you actually see it. However, there are a large number of messages that don’t relate to anywhere near where I live or regularly travel.
Thanks for trialing this, though. As I’ve said, I do find it useful.
Hi Chris, thanks for your feedback. We’re looking at London Overground and how we can make it more specific. Thanks again, let us know if you have any other thoughts. Cheers.