Measuring the Impacts of Social Media on Advancing Public Transit

Jenny Liu, Portland State University


  • (Jeff) Xuegang Ban, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Civil & Environmental Engineering


This project is a collaboration between Portland State University (PSU) and the Center for Infrastructure Transportation & Environment (CITE) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute seeking to develop performance measures for assessing the impacts of social media on promoting public transit. Revolutionary changes have occurred in the communication landscape, and there has been a rapid diffusion of social media use as a means of communicating transit information to the public. Significant resources are being directed to the use of social media in communication, yet little effort exists which measures the impacts of these popular vehicles of communication. Rarely studied is the role of social media in achieving the overarching goals of advancing the mission of transit agencies through increasing recruitment and retention of transit riders; increasing resources, customer satisfaction, addressing system issues, performance efficiency and effectiveness and improving employee productivity and morale. There is a need to measure the impacts of social media and account for the cost effectiveness of its wide use as a means of communication in public transit agencies. This research intends to extend understanding about whether investments in social media tools effectively achieve their intended purposes. 

The goal of this project is to identify social media-related measures for public transit agencies that can comprehensively capture the impacts of social media use on agency performance. This project will rely on a review of the research and practice literature to document findings in other fields on performance measures used to assess the impacts of social media. Best practices will be identified. A survey of a random sample of public transit agencies nationwide will target identifying performance measures currently used to document impacts. Gaps will be identified. Investigators will compare and contrast measures used in transit agencies and other fields and identify a list of performance measures that are most effective for transit agencies.


The findings of this study will significantly advance the state of the practice, and we believe that this study is groundbreaking as one of the first studies of its kind. It addresses a major gap in knowledge about measuring the effectiveness of social media in accomplishing public transit agencies’ communication objectives. As resources become significantly constrained, public agencies need to justify any major investments in their operations. Social media is increasingly becoming a major fixture in many agencies, yet currently agencies do not have reliable metrics to assess whether these investments are justified. Including performance metrics in transit agencies’ evaluation processes will strengthen communications and allow these agencies to fully leverage the potential of these technologies. Our results will likely help guide public transportation decision makers in making future investments in social media as well as provide guidance to others that utilize similar social media tools.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
July 31,2016
UTC Grant Cycle:
Tier 1 Round 2
UTC Funding: