The ad that’s been turning Metro riders’ heads recently is a billboard for the Kindle. To promote its e-reader, Amazon chose an image of the first few paragraphs of “Mockingjay,” the final book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, displayed on the device. What Amazon forgot is that folks who haven’t gotten through the series yet can’t easily avoid the huge type that reveals certain plot details — specifically, that [redacted] was [redacted], which made Katniss really [redacted].
But I don’t care about spoiler alerts nearly as much as I do about MetroAlerts. The new service — which sends emails and texts to riders about disruptions, delays and detours, and lets them customize the info by selecting their line, frequently used stations and routes — seems to be good at getting the word out. (Within 12 hours of signing up, I got five notifications.)
WMATA is getting the word out about the service with a bunch of banners I recently spotted at Metro Center. They’re slung low along the walls, which means more people were leaning against them than reading them. But when the butts moved out of the way, a few fascinating messages were revealed: “I took the bus to avoid those delays on the Red Line.” “Delayed in rush hour or on-time happy hour?” “I adjusted my work schedule so that I could miss those train delays.”
My eyes grew way wider than when I found out what happens in “The Hunger Games.” Never before have I seen Metro advertising that’s so brutally honest about what getting around by train and bus actually requires. You need to make backup plans, set realistic expectations and allow extra time in case things don’t go exactly right. You need to do those things when you drive, too, but while people generally regard Beltway backups as a fact of life, a train offloading is viewed as one more reason to give up on transit altogether.
I tend to cut Metro more slack than most people, and I think that’s because I’ve made an effort to stay informed and flexible. Sure, sometimes riding is a pain, but the more I know, the better my experience. Metro’s use of its alert system to promote this mindset seems like a smart way to cut down on the constant kvetching directed at WMATA over the past few years.
Metro will never be perfect. But these ads might be — if people would just butt out of the way.