Metro relaunches an updated mobile site

Metro’s mobile Web site, long a threadbare resource for riders, is getting a facelift.

Richard Sarles, Metro’s general manager, unveiled the new site at a meeting Thursday of the transit agency’s board of directors.

“If you used our mobile site in the past, you probably noticed it is somewhat outdated,” Sarles said in a presentation to the board.

The old site was developed when BlackBerrys were the standard in smartphone technology, he said. The new site is meant to be more interactive and user-friendly.

Visiting wmata.com on a mobile phone will take you to the new site. The updated site has a trip-planning tool, train arrival times and a link to the NextBus tool pinned to the top of the page.

“We are a little late to the party on this, but we’ve designed a site we think is among the best in the transit industry,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The new site, which took Metro staff about six months to design and develop, now more closely resembles the mobile sites used by transit agencies in Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco.

It includes new features that better replicate the experience of using the full desktop site. A news release announcing that Metro would stay open an hour late for college basketball at Verizon Center was plastered atop the main site Wednesday but was nowhere to be found on the old mobile site. On the new mobile hub, it was highlighted near the top of the page.

The trip-planning tool now more closely resembles what can be found on the full site. And the mobile site also includes an option to find service nearby, showing bus routes and rail stations in the vicinity of a phone’s location or a particular address.

Some weaknesses remain from the old mobile site. The rail system map still shows up as a stationary image rather than an interactive page where riders can select different stations from a map view to see train arrival times.

Smartphones are now a ubiquitous sight across the Metro system, and navigation and travel tools are an increasingly competitive corner of the mobile ecosystem.

Sarles, speaking after his presentation to the board, said travelers could use the new site over available apps because it offers “one-stop shopping.”

There are several transit apps available that provide Metro riders with bus and train information. But developers have said that Metro often provides sloppy or inaccurate data .

Bus riders have also complained that Metro’s NextBus service, which is supposed to deliver real-time information to mobile devices, is routinely unreliable.

In addition, the popular NextBus DC app stopped working late last year before being relaunched this month at iCommute DC.

The outcry last year over Apple booting Google Maps from the iPhone showed just how attached travelers are to using their phones as navigation tools. Google announced on Wednesday that it would add real-time Metrorail service alerts to its Maps product, factoring weekend track work and unplanned delays into directions.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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