[Updated at 2:15 p.m.]
The transit authority announced Thursday that it is upgrading its mobile Web site to replace the very plain version riders have been using and add some of the features mobile phone users have come to expect from transportation services.
Metro also is integrating its e-Alerts for buses into the NextBus system, so that riders looking for a bus’s anticipated arrival time will also see a message about any problems along that route.
The steps were announced a day after Google Maps added Metro transit alerts to its online direction-finding system.
For those already using other mobile applications such as the newly relaunched iCommute DC, Metro’s upgrade won’t knock your socks off. But it’s much better than the transit authority’s previous plain-vanilla edition for information on trains and buses.
The new version is designed to work for both iPhones and Android devices. I’m looking at it on an iPhone, and the first thing I notice is that I can read the text without having to zoom in. There are large icons — large for a smartphone — linking to popular features and modules to highlight other information categories.
And it’s not just that the mobile site looks vastly better than before.
First of all, the main screen can display timely news of interest to all riders, showing, for example, that Metrorail will stay open late Thursday night to get basketball fans home from the NCAA games at Verizon Center.
The very top of the screen has icons linking to Trip Planner, NextTrain and NextBus.
Below the icons and the news headline are links to “Rail Alerts & Advisories” and “Bus Alerts & Advisories.” The equivalent in the old version was a line marked “Disruptions.”
The next category on the list has great potential, especially during a rail disruption such as the recent one affecting the Blue and Yellow lines in Virginia. This category is called “Service Nearby.” Touch that, and the next screen will invite you to enter an address, intersection or landmark. Or, just tap “Use current location,” taking advantage of your device’s location services.
I like this feature a lot, because it spares me the trouble of typing in an address, such as my home address, and having Metro tell me it doesn’t exist.
The results show both Metro and suburban bus services nearby. The distance to each bus route is noted. Touch the line showing distance and you’ll be looking at a Google Map showing the route from your location to the nearest stop.
While I’ve urged Metrorail riders not to wait for a transit disruption to plan alternative routes, this new feature should be very helpful in a pinch.
Continuing down the main menu of the revamped site, riders will find touchable links to “Rail & Bus Maps” and “Rail & Bus schedules.” These also represent upgrades. On the old version, riders would find a link to a Metrorail map, but that was it. The new one links to D.C., Maryland and Virginia bus maps as well. These are pdf maps, but I had no trouble calling them up and enlarging them on my iPhone. Same goes for the rail and bus schedules.
Farther down the menu are “News,” “Elevator Status,” “SmarTrip,” and “Contact Us.” Those are generally comparable to features on the old site. But the old site did show a list of stations with both elevator and escalator outages. The new version shows only elevator outages, along with the name of the station from which a rider could request a shuttle bus to avoid the elevator problem.
On the new version, a rider can touch the phone number to request a shuttle.
Toward the bottom is a highlighted link to the transit police phone number. I like having the number and link stand out so prominently on this main screen. (In an emergency, you can always call 911 or use the rail car’s intercom to contact the train operator.)
The other categories, “Contact Us” and “View full site,” are similar to links on the old version.
If you already had the Metro mobile site as an icon on your home screen and you’re still seeing the old version, delete the icon. Then call up your mobile browser and go to www.wmata.com. You should see the new mobile site. Add that version to your home screen.
Let me know what you think of the redesign after you’ve had a chance to check it out in the real world. How does it match up with other mobile apps that you use for transit information?