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How Commute.org Makes Getting to Work Easier With Text Messages

Published on August 23, 2018

Commute.org is a public agency dedicated to reducing traffic in San Mateo County, California. Since 2002, they’ve been helping residents and employees find alternatives to driving alone. What happens when less people drive alone? Highways become less congested, air quality is improved and communities become more livable. It’s a win for everyone.

We had the chance to connect with John Ford, Commute.org’s executive director, to learn more about how they leverage SimpleTexting to support their mission.

Solving The First Mile Last Mile Problem

Many commuters don’t have a public transit service that takes them all the way to work. The first and last mile to the station makes all the difference. To solve the FM/LM issue, Commute.org provides shuttles that pick up riders from key transit stations and drops them off right in front of their places of work.

Last year, they provided 603,732 passenger trips. And as with any form of public transportation, sometimes there are important updates riders need to know about.

“How do we communicate with passengers in real time to let them know about delays, schedules changes or route modifications? Flyers on the bus were fine, but nobody really looks at those. And email was becoming less and less effective as a platform for communicating directly with passengers,” explains John.

That’s where public transit text alerts come in.

“The purpose of using SimpleTexting was to be as communicative as possible with our customers so when we do have something that is going to impact them, we can let them know right away.”

Keeping Riders Informed With SMS

The shuttle program services 17 cities and has approximately 30 different routes. By using unique keywords for each route, Commute.org can send the right updates to the right group of passengers.

“When we have a vehicle broken down, we can send a specific alert to the people who signed up just for that route,” says John.

For example, commuters who ride the Oyster Point BART shuttle can text OPBAlerts to 55588. Those who use the Norfolk shuttle can text NORAlerts to the same short code.

To make this effort successful, Commute.org needed to get as many commuters as possible to opt-in for messages.

Encouraging Text Alert Sign Ups

“We encourage all of our passengers as well as their employers to sign up for the text alert system. The sign up rate has been incredible. And most people who sign up, stay with it.”

Nearly 2,000 people are signed up to receive texts alerts from Commute.org. How did they achieve this sign-up rate?

Anytime someone calls Commute.org’s customer support number, their team offers to sign them up for for text updates. They also place window clings on the buses with the appropriate keywords so that as commuters are riding, they can sign up for that route’s text alerts. Additionally, employers who benefit from the shuttle service send the sign-up keyword and short code via their internal communications.

Of course, one of Commute.org’s main focuses is their website. It receives over 15,000 visitors each month. Passengers can sign up for text alerts right from the Commute.org home page. Commute.org is plugged in to the SimpleTexting platform using our API. Users can select a route from a dropdown on Commute.org, type in their phone number and quickly sign up for updates.

Gathering Feedback for Continuous Improvement

“What we’re trying to do is make commuting using public transit as easy as possible. And it’s hard.” One of the ways Commute.org makes it easier is by getting feedback directly from their passengers. Every year, they send out a Shuttle Rider Survey.

“We used SimpleTexting to push out our survey this past year and had a tremendous response rate. Way better than we’ve ever had. It far exceeded our expectations.”

This survey helps Commute.org identify areas for improvement and decide what initiatives to focus on. By getting feedback from as many passengers as possible, they can better serve their community.

So just how much did the response rate increase increase? Over 300% from 2016 to 2018.

Our conversation made it clear that above all, Commute.org is focused on programs that have an immediate impact. The SimpleTexting platform helped them quickly connect with riders. It can help you connect with your audience, too. Sign up for a free trial and get access to all of our platform features for 14 days. There’s no credit card or contract required.


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