Are you, fellow New York commuter, following the correct New York Subway social media account? The answer may surprise you.
Earlier this week, one of my Gawker colleagues was delayed coming into the office (I would say “late” but that would imply that the Gawker Media office hews to any conventional definition of “on time”) because of a delay on the M line of the New York City Subway. That delay, due to “signal problems” (an increasingly common problem for our aged subway system), was reported by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on its social media platform, giving my colleague the opportunity to choose an alternate route. And my colleague follows the MTA on Twitter. Still, she missed the message. Why is that?
Because despite the fact that New Yorkers almost universally recognize the MTA as the operator of the New York City Subway—thanks in part to ubiquitous branding, automated announcements that thank subway riders for “riding with the MTA,” and nearly a half-century of local news reports cementing the association of “the subway” with “the MTA” in the minds of all New Yorkers—the Twitter account that dispenses subway service alerts (and answers questions about subway service) is not @MTA. It is @NYCTSubway.
The @NYCTSubway account is the fastest, most frequently updated, and most reliable source of subway status information. It is often updated much more quickly than the MTA’s website, and it will frequently answer commuters’ specific questions about subway service. The @MTA account, on the other hand, features PSAs, public relations material, and, naturally, a lot of information about the other agencies under the umbrella of the MTA (the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad) that daily subway riders don’t need to know about.
One problem, and the likely reason that my colleague did not follow the correct account, is that “NYCT” is not an acronym that New Yorkers have ever actually associated with the subway system. Before the MTA took over the subway system in 1968, the subway authority was the New York City Transit Authority, commonly known, as depicted on the logos plastered on every subway car, as “the TA.”
When the New York City Transit Authority was absorbed by the MTA, the original name of its subway and bus operating authority was officially retained, but at no point did the subways feature a logo employing the acronym “NYCTA.” If you follow the logo history, you’ll see that the TA logo was phased out in favor of a solitary M, which was eventually supplanted by the current MTA logo. The current New York City Subway map features the “MTA” logo, above the words “New York City Subway.” “NYCT” is nowhere in sight.
The agency that operates the subway is currently “branded” as MTA New York City Transit. But if you use Twitter’s search function to find the official MTA New York City Transit account, by, say, typing in “MTA,” the unhelpful @MTA account will, obviously, show up first, prompting most users to assume that this is the account to follow for subway status information. (The @MTA account retweets some, but by no means all @NYCTSubway alert advisories.)
Perhaps, and this is just a suggestion, the MTA could change the name of their subway status alert to something like @MTASubway.
There is currently a Twitter user named @MTASubway. They joined in 2009 and have never Tweeted. Twitter will generally give the usernames of inactive accounts to people and organizations with related trademarks. The MTA, which has been known to aggressively enforce its trademarks against artists and bagel shops, could probably convince them to hand it over.
Unless and until the MTA obtains a more sensible Twitter account name, here is a commuting tip: Follow @NYCTSubway, and check that feed before you go underground. If there is a signal problem, a sick passenger, a derailment, or a Taking of Pelham One Two Three situation delaying your train, that is where you’ll hear about it.
Images: MTA via MetroMap Art/Blingee