BRTS SystemiBus, the newly launched Bus Rapid Transit System(BRTS ) in Indore, Madhya Pradesh has pioneered a new beginning in the promotion of public transport in India through social networking sites like Facebook. The ibus FB page was launched in March 2013, and within three months the page has 370 likes. Also, a good amount of feedback and comments on the BRTS from users get proactively answered by ibus FB page administrator. This is unique, and the first BRTS in India to have its own dedicated, active FB page. 

India is a young nation. More than half of its 1.2 billion people are under age 25, and two-thirds are below 35. According to an estimate, 85 percent of young India is connected through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. And therein lies an enormous opportunity for public transit authorities to reach out and get connected to this large, young audience through the language of social media, in which they are quite comfortable and active. 

It is not only important to have better public transport facilities, but it is also of utmost importance to communicate these systems through effective mediums to inform, attract, and encourgage users.

According to exchange4 media, an information sharing domain, India has 125 million Internet users. On average, Indian web users spend 26 minutes online each day and 87.1 million users experience Internet on their smart phones, and this number is expected to grow to 165 million by 2015.

Case Study Of iBus, The Official Face Book Page Of Indore BRTS.

ibus, launched in April, 2013 is the first among existing BRTS services in India to have its own official Facebook page. The iBus system is operated by Atal Indore City Transport Services Ltd (AICTSL), a Special Purpose Vehicle to operate and manage public transport services in the city of Indore.

The official page regularly posts news updates, maps of routes, fare collection information, photos of BRTS passengers, and also replies to queries posted by followers. The administrator of iBus page encourages users to submit suggestions, ideas, complaints, and appreciation for the system. One highlight of the ibus page is the promoted response from the official authorities on users complaints or suggestions.

This is a progressive and welcome development to popularize and promote public transport system in the cities. As a bus user, we all look for real time bus information and it is the best approach to make the information available on our ubiquitous mobile phones before arriving on the bus stops. 

Unfortunately, branding and marketing of public transport projects have been the least priorities of Public Transport Authorities in India despite of its immense value in creating a sense of ownership among bus users.

This novel initiative in Indore, on the other hand, is a fresh and positive change. According to an estimate, Indore currently accounts for 503,020 Facebook users.

The next step would be having regular bus updates, detour information, promotional events, exciting contests, hangouts with officials, celebrity chats, and other online activities to keep the bus passengers and new audience engaged and informed. 

Case Study of My Bus, The Official Face Book page of BRTS in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

My Bus BRTS, operated by Bhopal City Link Limited, has started its trial run of BRTS in June, 2013. It also has registered its social media presence by creating a dedicated Facebook page with its brand name My Bus. The FB page has regular updates on trial runs, seminars and conferences on BRTS, awareness videos on BRTS, and trial run photo stories.

However, it is still in its nascent stage and slowly gaining some pace. But the page needs regular content which is informative, engaging, and empowering for the users. My Bus daily announcements on bus timings, routes, and other user-friendly information can be shared through its social media platforms. The content should be visually alluring making it easy to understand for others.

Popular BRTS Systems In Gujarat Have No Official Social Media Presence

The successful Janmarg (In English, "Peoples' Way"), the BRTS in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which has won national and international accolade, has no official presence on social networking sites like Facebook & twitter.

Janmarg was launched in October, 2009, by Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, but even after four years of Janmarg operation in Ahmedabad there is no dedicated FB Page and Twitter handle. 

At present many passengers travel daily by BRTS buses. According to UNEP report "Low carbon mobility in India and the challenges of social inclusion : Bus Rapid Transit Case Studies in India" published in January, 2013 "by age the largest user group of the BRTS (Ahmedababad) is the youth and adult working population which is the age group of 15-40 years." 

Janmarg needs to attract these young audiences through social media platforms, through engaging content, and through regular updates on bus movements. Presently, the only source of information and updates of BRTS buses arrival and departure is limited to bus stations only. 

An estimate suggests that there are 78 million active Facebook users in India, which is a growth of 50 percent from 2012. And most of them are young users.

However, there exists an unofficial Janmarg FB group handled by Raja Nageswaran, a BRTS enthusiast from Ahmedabad. The group has more than 2000 members. However, the group is not active as it used to be in past. Nageswaran is hopeful and "willing to share administrative rights if the Ahmedabad BRTS accepts the group and makes it an official one."

Janmarg authorities needs to invest time and energy to come up with a robust official BRTS page for its users. This will immensely help in gathering user feedback on the existing system, and also help in maintaining the positive image of the BRTS.

Janmarg's official debut on social media platforms will only add to its popularity and wider outreach among young users.

Rajkot, second city in Gujarat to run Rajpath, (In English, "Royal Path") BRTS service is not very different from Ahmedabad Janmarg. The Rajkot BRTS also has no official presence on social networking sites despite the growing number of young users spending good amount of time using social media platforms.

Get Social Online is Way Ahead for BRTS in India to Increase its Popularity & Reach

Social media is the fastest growing medium of mass communication in India and is considered reliable, as some say "twitter is faster than earthquakes". Public transport authorities like many other corporate brands should start utilizing this new medium to promote transportation systems like the BRTS, which is fast, efficient and reliable.

The power of social media is immense and it can create a healthy two-way communication between public transport authorities and public transit users. However, this approach requires a committed effort and consistency in sharing the information and updates on social media platforms, mostly on bus timing, change of routes, or any major construction work on the route. 

Social Media platforms gives immense opportunities to public transport authorities to run campaigns, events, and other activities to promote traveling by BRTS in cities. It can experiment to create a niche for public transport users by government agencies in India. This is an opportune time to promote BRTS concept online through social media platforms and offline through better transport facilities.

Global examples like Rea Vaya Bus transit, a BRTS system in Johanseburg, uses Facebook and Twitter extensively to promote closer relationships and information sharing with daily bus passengers. In India, Jaipur Traffic Police are making the best use of social media platforms like Facebook to keep the citizens updated on traffic situations in the city. Most of the information shared is on real time basis.

The costs involved to manage social media platforms are miniscule as compared to expensive traditional media of print, TV, and advertisements through hoardings and banner.

Government agencies in India, especially cities with upcoming and running BRTS systems should start investing their time and energy to popularize BRTS initiatives through well-planned social media strategy to attract the urban and upwardly mobile city dwellers in addition to providing a world class BRTS infrastructure in place.