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New Image for Metro Web Site

The Old Web Site
The Old Web Site
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Web sites developed by transit agencies have helped many people cross hurdles that had kept them from using trains and buses: How much will it cost, how do I pay the fare, where does this one stop, how long will I have to wait? Metro, which launched its Web site at http://www.wmata.comin 1996, has redesigned it to be more user-friendly. Here's a review. We'd also like to hear your comments and suggestions, at commuter@washpost.com.

The Basics

· Old Site: It was getting more than 16 million page views a month, and there was lots of useful information. But finding certain things, such as details about fares or elevator problems, required some intuition and extensive clicking. The organization of information was a bit bureaucratic, and the text, while plentiful, was hard to read.

· New Site: Suzanne Peck, Metro's assistant general manager for information technology, hates long, text-heavy Web pages and forcing people to click more than three times to get the information they want. She and her Web technology team gave the site a thorough scrubbing and launched the redesign Monday.

· The View: The first thing you'll notice is that it's prettier. The browns and tans have been replaced with a dominant blue. There is more white space to air things out, more icons to guide the eye and a central screen to feature information of special interest. The second thing you'll notice is that the service announcements that used to scroll across the top of the page are gone. They've moved into a box on the left side, right under the new location of the Trip Planner. All these features are compressed into a horizontal display that appears on a single screen.

For Locals

The audiences for transit Web sites consist of the residents who are at least somewhat familiar with the system and the out-of-towners who need an introduction to its mysteries.

· Buttons: The blue clickable buttons across the top and bottom of the central screen focus attention on the information most useful to riders, such as Maps & Stations, Next Train Arrival, SmarTrip Card and SmartBenefits.

· Maps & Stations: Riders will recognize the familiar rail system map, but there are helpful new features. Point your mouse at a station marker and click. Up pops a balloon that displays the next train arrival times and any service alerts for the station. I'm looking at the Metro Center information and see the alert icon for escalators is highlighted. I click on it and am taken to the full page on Metro Center Station. One more click and I learn the location of two out-of-service escalators and when they're scheduled to be fixed.

· Mapping: There are several easy ways to relate the stations to their surroundings through Google Maps. The balloon that displays the station information has a link at the bottom to "Google Map" and to "Search Nearby." Click on the first for a basic view of the street pattern around the station, as well as the location of any other nearby stations. Click on the second for a searchable map -- "restaurants," for example -- that will display nearby locations. The helpful StationMasters maps are available through links on the station pages.

· Trip Planner: This very popular feature moved from the right side of the home page to the left side. As with many other elements on the site, the underlying information is basically the same, but it's presented much more clearly and is easier to use.

For Visitors

Much of the information that's helpful to locals, such as Trip Planner and the maps, will be useful to visitors as well. But some of the new gadgets view the transit system as a newcomer would. Imagine such a person planning a visit for the Inauguration.

· Central Screen: "Metro Prepares for Inauguration Week" is one of the alternating features. Clicking on "Learn more," the visitor is taken to the page displaying "Plans for Inauguration Weekend." Like many of the new pages, this one lays out a series of icons and headlines that, if chosen, can be expanded to reveal more information and additional links.

· New to Metro: The clickable button by that name on the home page takes people to a series of icons and headlines with tourist-oriented themes including "What is Metro?," "Getting to Metro" and "Visitor's Kit." Maybe the locals shouldn't look here. Metro is defined as "a convenient and stress-free way to get around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area." If only it were always so. But there is a video on this page that offers a fairly realistic view of our escalator issues -- and also advises people to stand to the right.

-- Robert Thomson


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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