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Twitter backtracks, lets emergency and traffic alert accounts keep free API access

Twitter backtracks, lets emergency and traffic alert accounts keep free API access


After many public utilities like the National Weather Service and the MTA ditched Twitter due to its API paywall, now the company says ‘verified gov or publicly owned services’ can stick around for free.

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

After putting its API behind a paywall, Twitter is now reversing course and making an exception for emergency and transportation agencies — some of which have already left the platform.

In a tweet sent out from the Twitter Dev account on Tuesday, the platform says “verified gov or publicly owned services who tweet weather alerts, transport updates and emergency notifications” can continue to use the API free of charge. Exactly what the company means by “verified” is unclear. Does it only apply if the agency has enabled a new “verified” account, and do they have to pay to get checkmarks on any sub accounts that may require API access?

We already started seeing the effects of these API changes last month when several emergency and transportation accounts encountered issues posting alerts to the platform. While some of the National Weather Service’s (NWS) accounts were suspended from Twitter with no explanation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) also experienced disruptions to their API access.

These issues came to a head last week when the MTA abandoned its bus and train alerts on Twitter altogether, noting that “Twitter is no longer reliable for providing the consistent updates riders expect.” It instead encouraged riders to sign up for SMS and email alerts or use its site.

In response to this change, the MTA tweeted, “ Glad that Twitter got the message. We’re happy that they’ve committed to making API access free for the MTA and other public sector agencies. In light of this reversal, we’re assessing our options for service alerts going forward.”

Other affected services, including the NWS, United States Geologic Service, and the US Forest Service, similarly pointed users to other ways users can receive real-time alerts, but they never left the platform. BART spokesperson James Allison also said at the time that the agency would continue to use Twitter while “closely monitoring the situation.”

With the free version of Twitter’s API, users can only post 1,500 automated tweets per month. Prices increase from there, with the hobbyist Basic tier costing $100 per month and a “low-cost” enterprise plan reportedly reaching up to $42,000 per month. This setup obviously isn’t ideal for the numerous weather and transportation agencies that send out several automated tweets each day to alert users of emergencies or travel delays.

Update 7:14PM ET: Added MTA response.