Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Both WMATA and its riders craft new tools to track the system

February 29, 2012 - 10:38 AM
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(Photo: flickr/beve4)

Don't look any further than your browser or smartphone for a panoply of new tools to track Metrorail and bus, D.C. riders. Three new ones have emerged in the last few days.

First, Metro released its new alerts system late yesterday. Chief spokesperson Dan Stessel has alluded to these new alerts for months with excitement and told me earlier in February that "the heavy lifting is done" and the agency had entered its testing phase. Now, as of Feb. 28, MetroAlerts is officially here, with a bright blue logo splashed onto the WMATA homepage, and promises better alerts for both Metro and bus. "For the first time, bus riders can get emails and text messages alerting them to detours, schedule changes, delays and other service information," Metro GM Richard Sarles notes in the announcement. The system works in tandem with NextBus and provides e-mail and shorter text alerts, a first for District bus riders (although only Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.). The distinction between alerts and advisories is that advisories are longer; previously Metrorail alerts have been limited to 140 characters. Riders also can customize what alerts they receive.

"You can select four favorite stations," Stessel told me when first explaining the system a couple weeks back.

Good gesture, although I'm curious how smoothly the alerts will run. Sign up here and test it out. But MetroAlerts is hardly the only innovation WMATA attempted in the last few days.

Social media manager Brian Anderson unveiled a new Twitter hashtag to encourage riders to report dysfunctional parts of the system. He notes that he attended a work group of Metro enthusiasts and is trying out the hashtag to see how it works. The simple yet bold hashtag name — #TellMetro.

"#TellMetro helps aggrigate some customer service issues we hear, address and answer admidst the @wmata conversation," Anderson tweeted to a Metro rider earlier this week in explanation.

I've already observed some riders integrating #TellMetro although others complain that another hashtag might be redundant. Why, after all, would a person tweet to @WMATA if the #TellMetro hashtag ends up receiving more attention? I see some virtue, however, given the sheer amount of noise Anderson likely faces in his @WMATA replies and via the #WMATA hashtag. Online rider rage has escalated in recent months, and a new hashtag focused solely on service incidents may, potentially, make it easier for WMATA staff to track them.

Another new Twitter tool has emerged, too, and not an official one. The Twitter user Mazzie has created both a Twitter and Tumblr account called WMATA Harassment, launched after a recent D.C. Council hearing exposed several incidents of harassment on the rail lines and buses. WMATA is not doing enough, several people allege, to track verbal harassment, to educate the ridership through a PR campaign, or to professionally handle incidents when they do occur. Others still fixate on the comments of Metro's chief spokesperson and demand an apology.

Mazzie's new tools propose an independent rider tracking of the troubling tales of harassment. Consider the Twitter bio: "Have you been harassed on WMATA bus or rail? I have. Let's let @wmata know how serious this issue is." This morning the account attempted to catch the attention of Mayor Vince Gray. In response to Mazzie's initiative, Holla Back D.C. says they're "looking forward to working together to continue to put pressure on WMATA." 

Explore all these tools at your leisure.

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