Just about everyone has an idea for improving Metro. The challenge presented in a new contest launched by the blog Greater Greater Washington is to develop an idea within these bounds: Metro must be able to implement the idea in three to six months, the cost must be no more than $100,000 to create and almost nothing to continue, it must be legal, and it must not have any bad effect on service or safety.

The contest, developed by Greater Greater Washington in collaboration with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Metro, already has drawn a bunch of entries. You can see them, comment on them and submit your own ideas, at metrogreater.org.

Contest entries will continue until July 15. Then by Aug. 5, a jury will select 10 of the entries that meet all the rules, and those finalists will be put to a public vote from Aug. 8 to 19, with the winner announced by Aug. 24. David Alpert, founder and president of Greater Greater Washington, says Metro has committed to using the winning entry within six months.

Alpert noted that Metro is in the midst of some huge rebuilding projects. Most prominent lately is the SafeTrack maintenance plan. In the meantime, he said, “there are opportunities to make smaller, faster, cheaper changes along the way which will improve the rider experience both during rebuilding and beyond.”

He pointed out the new decals on some platforms that mark where the back of a six-car train will be when it pulls into the station and the green “8” on the next-train signs that give riders a heads-up about the approach of an eight-car train. To that, I’d add the Customer Accountability Report launched by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. (You can find a link to that PDF on Metro’s home page.)

“Those of us outside the transit agency can’t turn wrenches or replace rail ties,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “But riders, advocates and the public have a wealth of knowledge, ideas and energy that we can share. Riders know the system intimately, and we’re excited to see the small, creative and implementable ideas the contest brings to light that WMATA can use to improve the rider experience.”

The contest winner gets “public recognition and some transit memorabilia,” according to Greater Greater Washington.

This is a great idea on the part of everyone involved. The transit authority needs to be more in touch with riders on the seemingly little things that actually could do a lot to boost customer service. Little projects with high visibility can help restore some of the public’s lost confidence in Metro.

Metro may well get several good and usable ideas out of the contest in addition to the winner. One thing that’s going to be difficult for us average folks to do is estimate how far $100,000 will go. Some of the initial submissions are very low cost. Others look as if they’ll need some accounting help.

This is a sampler of what’s been proposed so far.

Mark door locations at transfer stations. Use the same stick-on signs as the “six-car ends here” signs to mark the area where the doors for a stopped train are. This allows people to wait closer to where the train stops, decreasing boarding time at transfer stations and others with high traffic.

Compass-rose decals at station exits. Exiting at an unfamiliar Metro station, but know the direction you need to head next? Use a compass rose to quickly orient yourself.

LED car-capacity indicators. Equip Metro trains with LED indicators that show how crowded a specific car is, allowing customers to choose cars with fewer people in them.

Free stopovers on commute home. Metro should allow me to exit and re-enter at the same station during a two-hour window for no charge, provided I continue in the same direction. This would allow me to run errands on the way home without paying an additional fare.

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