SMS and Slack for Public Transit

Clerk and Slack at the MASSTrans Michigan Frontline Conference

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Team Clerk Oct 10, 2022

SMS for Public Transit

Affordable and convenient public transportation is a top challenge for everyone – from major cities to rural regions and everywhere in between. Adapting the right technology platform is critical to a successful public transit solution.

Successful public transportation is important because it helps a region serve its residents and visitors, boosting the economy, reducing pollution, and overcoming physical and demographic barriers. From tourism to workers to senior citizens to students, having an easy way to travel helps communities thrive.

Uber revolutionized the industry by creating not only a rideshare platform, but also by creating an app with an easy and convenient user experience. It used cutting-edge technology to disrupt public transit. The ubiquity of technology today has made prompt communication the expectation for all consumers - in all industries - but especially when it comes to transportation.

Slack & Clerk - Michigan Frontline Conference
Slack & Clerk - Michigan Frontline Conference

Instead of regional transportation options creating their own platform, though, it is much more effective to use existing communication platforms to power their business - namely, texting. That’s what WexExpress has done, to great success. They use Clerk and Slack for their entire workflow, and they shared their story recently at the MASSTrans Michigan Frontline Conference.

Who is WexExpress?

WexExpress provides public transit services to the residents and visitors of Wexford County, located in Northern Lower Michigan. Its fleet of vehicles provides door-to-door service throughout the entire county as well as regional connections to Traverse City (which has an airport) as well as Tustin, another city outside of the county.

Unlike taxis, WexExpress groups riders in an area for rides. They also provide vehicles with lift and ramps for passengers with special mobility needs. They even have a volunteer driver program for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities to get to non-emergent appointments across the state.

Riders can schedule a ride by calling or texting the WexExpress dispatch phone line. Without using an app, anyone with a phone can easily schedule rides. It makes it easier for everyone to use by using the systems that riders are already using. And

What is the Michigan Frontline Conference?

The Michigan Association of Transportation Systems (MASSTrans) is a non-profit that advocates for public transit in Michigan and provides training for transit systems and employees. Each year, MASSTrans organizes the Frontline Employee Training Conference and a Statewide Small Bus Roadeo competition. This event has seminars for transit personnel and training for drivers, dispatchers, and mechanics.

MASSTrans - Michigan Frontline Conference
MASSTrans - Michigan Frontline Conference

In 2022, Slack was one of the sponsors of the Frontline Conference. Slack, the leading communications platform, is used by various industries across the world, including public transit. It is used in large systems such as the New York MTA as well as smaller systems, like WexExpress. While often thought of as merely an “instant message” tool for office workers, Slack is actually so much more, especially when paired with Clerk for SMS. Aaron Stahl of WexExpress spoke along with two individuals from Slack to demonstrate how public transit companies can use Slack and the benefits it can bring.

How does WexExpress use Slack and SMS?

With Clerk, WexExpress can use Slack to power their entire workflow. Clerk enables real-time, two-way SMS inside Slack. People who need rides can text the WexExpress business phone number, which connects directly to the Clerk Slack channel.

In real-time, WexExpress employees can reply to their users in Slack, answering questions and scheduling rides. When replying in Slack, the message is actually texted back to the person using WexExpress’s business phone number. It is even the exact same phone number that potential riders can use to call.

Plus, Clerk was built specifically for Slack. This means it integrates seamlessly with Slack, enabling WexExpress employees to apply the useful features of Slack to their SMS communication. For example, as requests come in, they can be internally assigned to an employee (without directly replying to the message). Or if someone has a question that the scheduler doesn’t know how to answer, the scheduler can easily tag the appropriate internal person to the text message conversation. That person can see the entire dialogue and respond, without requiring delays or repetitive conversations. It is easy and organized, both for the potential rider and for the WexExpress employees.

WexExpress has been using Clerk inside of Slack for almost two years now, becoming an integral part of operations and helping support the citizens and economy of this area of Michigan.

The benefits of Slack and SMS for public transit

Governments and municipalities everywhere are struggling with how to provide transportation, especially last-mile transportation, to their residents and visitors. Slack and SMS can help public transit companies provide consumer-friendly transportation to residents through texting.

Texting has become the preferred form of communication. When companies, including public transit, can operate directly through SMS, it is easier to reach people. There is no app for riders to download. This makes it more accessible to all demographics, eliminates constant “updates”, and makes riders less likely to miss alerts or notifications. Plus, using the same phone number for calls makes it simple for riders to understand, even saving the WexExpress number as a contact.

SMS is clearly preferred on the consumer-facing side, but how can public transit dispatchers manage the business texting? When SMS is connected to Slack, businesses are able to harness the organizational powers of that platform and apply it to their consumers, instead of being just an internal tool.

What could you do with SMS in Slack?

With Clerk, organizations of all sizes and in all industries are benefiting from having text in Slack. You can bring your existing phone number or get a new one, and be texting clients, customers, or vendors in just minutes. Learn more about how SMS in Slack works here.