Metro riders with smartphones get a few new ways to help themselves navigate

Robert Thomson
Columnist March 30, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was pleased to see that you mentioned iCommute DC in your tips section, and even happier that the app is back with new life.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

What wasn’t clear from your tips, though, was that the new version also provides information about trains. As someone who just used iCommute DC for a trip downtown that involved a bus and a train, this is the app I have been waiting for!

— Soren M. Peterson,

Riverdale

I was grateful to have readers reacting to my tip on this page last week about the transit guidance available in the mobile app and also to the column about transit managers’ goal of creating a “self-service system” guiding riders through their entire experience with Metro.

Meanwhile, Metro has been making progress toward that goal of helping riders help themselves. The biggest development was the relaunch this past week of Metro’s own way-finding application for the now-numerous people with smartphones.

To some extent, Metro is playing catch-up with private developers like those behind the iCommute DC application, which provides guidance not only for Metro rail and bus but also for several suburban bus systems and the D.C. Circulator.

Metro’s old mobile site was plain vanilla, offering riders some very basic assistance.

The new version is designed to work with iPhones and Android devices. The first thing I noticed on my iPhone version was that I could 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.

The icons link to Trip Planner, NextTrain and NextBus. Below are links to “Rail Alerts & Advisories” and “Bus Alerts & Advisories.”

The next category has great potential, especially during a rail disruption. 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 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 your route to the nearest stop.

This new feature should be very helpful in a pinch. But riders also might while away some idle moments on the platform by walking through some what-if scenarios, based on theoretical disruptions at any of the stations along their routes.

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 test it in the real world. How does it match up with other mobile apps you use for transit information?

Metro also is integrating its
e-Alerts for buses into the NextBus system, so that riders looking for a bus’s arrival time will also see a message about any problems along that route.

And I like what Metro has done in adding guidance on weekend maintenance disruptions to its online Trip Planner service.

Advisories go up on Trip Planner on Mondays for the coming weekend. By Thursday, travelers also should find the Trip Planner data updated to reflect the actual schedule for the weekend. If buses are replacing trains on a portion of a line, riders should see the additional travel time for the buses displayed in the trip- planning results.

This does nothing to reduce delay times, but you may have a better idea of what you’re getting into before you head home.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

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