City Transit joins Twitter after RiderAlerts shut down

February 7, 2014

Washington City Council declined Thursday night to pay former councilman Matt Staniszewski’s tech company for developing the local transit agency’s RiderAlert system and instead turned to Twitter to get messages out to the public.

The lack of movement comes after some city officials indicated earlier this month they would consider paying nTouch a reduced portion of the $3,257 it owed for the work after the company disconnected the alert system in mid-January.

Washington City Transit General Manager Joseph Thomas reported to council that the agency launched a Twitter feed Tuesday as a way to circumvent the loss of the rider alert system. He said the new Twitter handle @WashPaTransit is a positive resource for promoting the agency, and they’ve been able to direct new riders to various routes.

“It’s not only a way to inform riders of delays, but we’re also reaching out to new riders and making them aware of our services,” Thomas said at the meeting.

The decision to not pay nTouch did not sit well with Staniszewski, who attended Thursday night’s meeting but declined to meet with city officials afterward. Staniszewski, who lost his re-election bid in November and now works as New Castle’s community and economic development director, said the company is meeting with an attorney about possible legal action against the city and also is considering working with a debt collection agency.

“It’s unfortunate the city is making this a personal matter,” Staniszewski said.

The company developed and launched the RiderAlert system, which sends text messages and emails to riders who sign up for the service, in March. Late fees and other expenses have been added to the original $2,100 bill, although Staniszewski said the company would be willing to negotiate with the city to reduce that invoice.

“The city should pay their bills. Bottom line, work was done,” he said. “What message does this send about city officials and their commitments?”

Washington Mayor Brenda Davis said the matter was turned over to the city’s solicitor for legal review, and she estimated the city already paid Staniszewski’s company more than $20,000 for other various work with the agency’s website since 2011. Davis acknowledged Staniszewski abstained from votes that awarded bids to nTouch, but she said he never admitted to operating the company.

“We can’t be condoning what he does when we know he hasn’t been honest with us,” Davis said. “I cannot pay Mr. Staniszewski money when the whole process was done unethically and he never disclosed he was the owner of the company. I believe that’s unethical.”

The transit agency now appears to have settled on using Twitter as its primary news alert outlet. By Friday afternoon, City Transit’s Twitter feed had 26 followers and tweeted five messages to the public. Route updates also are available in the news section of Washington City Transit’s website.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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