Metro has launched an e-mail and text message alert system designed to give bus riders the same sort of information about service disruptions that rail riders have been getting.

Metrobus users can sign up online to get service information on a maximum of four lines. It can be sent to their mobile devices, pagers or desktop computers. The alert system will operate between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m weekdays.

(Courtesy of WMATA)

The transit authority says the new system is designed to compliment the information also available through Next Bus, the online or automated phone service that predicts the arrival times for buses at stops along their routes.

While the alert system has been available to Metrorail riders for many years, Metro says the new service also provides some new flexibility for the train messages.

Rail riders still can receive the 140-character alerts they have been getting, but they also can get longer advisories about upcoming service changes, track work, early openings and travel tips.

The MetroAlert system can handle two e-mail addresses, so participants could get the shorter messages sent to mobile devices and reserve the longer ones to be read on accounts accessible from their desktops. Rail riders also can opt for alerts that target the four stations they use the most.

To sign up, use this link for MetroAlerts. It will take you to a page on Metro’s Web site,

The alerts will automatically go to Metro’s Twitter feed, @wmata. RSS feeds also are available, the transit authority said.

Those of you who already subscribe to the alert system for rail have been automatically migrated to the new system. But Metro says you should update your settings, so you can use the enhancements.

The new system requires a user name and password. If you already have an account, use the default password “metro” when logging in for the first time.

Expanding these real-time information services is important. Bus service disruptions are frequent in any congested area. Rail service disruptions are going to be with us for years, according to transit officials.

So if we know that, we know that the transit authority needs to concentrate on fast and effective communication with riders about those disruptions.

All of the existing systems have had problems, especially when knew. Some of the systems were never completely reliable and now are outdated technology. I’m thinking in particular of the next train information displays on the rail platforms.

But train riders also complain from time to time about the e-mail alerts. The most frequent complaint I get is that the first message a rider sees about a disruption is the one that says, “The situation has been resolved. Thank you for riding Metrorail.”

I get fewer complaints now about the accuracy of the Next Bus system, but they still come in. It’s not so bad when the bus arrives a few minutes late. But when it arrives a few minutes earlier than predicted, people who had pegged their arrival time to the Next Bus information are really annoyed.

So as you sign up for the new real-time services, please let me know how they’re functioning in the real world.