Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

New 'Metro Master' iPhone app promises an easier WMATA ride

February 21, 2012 - 10:45 AM
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The smart way to ride? (Photo: Courtesy of Metro Master)

Two recent graduates of George Washington University concluded last year that our vast Metrorail system needed a new smartphone app. How to navigate this sprawling WMATA mess? How to know what rail cars would be less crowded and when would new trains arrive? Let's bring on the data, they said, and craft a new, comprehensive iPhone app to help riders. And let's throw in some trivia and a digital map for good measure.

On Feb. 20, David Glidden and Andrew Thal officially unveiled their new Metro Master app, available in the iTunes App Store and priced at $2.99. They spent more than 30 hours riding the rails over the course of four months to collect their WMATA data — a project that arose from chats during a Nationals baseball game last July in which Glidden realized there was no suitable app out there for traveling the Metro. They estimate that the eight months of preparation, from idea conception to app publication yesterday, amounted to about $250. No wonder. They've calculated more than 2,746 route combinations and reveal some of the sketches and diagrams involved on their website. They traveled to all 86 Metro stations and traveled all five line to gather their transit wisdom. Metro Master's tagline: "The best app for navigating the D.C. Metro."

I reached out to Glidden and Thal with a few questions about their new app, ready now for anyone with an iPhone or iPod Touch (they're hoping to expand the app to the Android soon). Here's what the two young Metro Masters had to say about their app and our complicated Metro system:

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: Metro Master)

TBD On Foot: Your new app seems to have taken an enormous amount of time to research and create. What kept you going throughout all that?

Glidden and Thal: It was definitely a lot of Metro riding (check out the Rider's Log if you haven't already) and we quickly realized that it would be much more efficient to collect data during rush hour so we wouldn't have to wait 20 minutes in between at every station! But really what kept us going was our excitement that this would be something people would use and enjoy. We both are entrepreneurial and tech geeks at heart (especially Andrew), and this project allowed us to fulfill those aspects of our lives.

On Foot: How much have you taken the Metro yourself? What's your own commute like?

We use the Metro pretty much every day. Andrew commutes to work on the Metro getting on at Rosslyn, one of the busiest stations during rush hour. David uses Metrobus to get to work, and he uses the Metro to get to other places in the city that aren't a part of his daily commute. David is frequently in the Dupont area, so he has had to adapt to the fact that there is only one entrance to Dupont for the next few months.

On Foot: I notice you're both recent GWU grads. Tell me, how've the new escalators been working out for you at Foggy Bottom? I'm curious to know your reaction to the station in general. I used to take it regularly and recall some of the long lines that snaked out down the street...

During much of the time in the fall when David was collecting data, he would start his journey from Foggy Bottom since he works there. The long lines were definitely a frustration but the new escalators are nice and the new overhang is looking great as well. Currently neither of us live there, so we don't use the station as much as we used to and haven’t experienced the long lines that frequently.

On Foot: Metro riders pay quite a bit just to ride the Metro. Why should people spare a few bucks for this new tool?

If you compare the feature set of Metro Master to that of the other D.C. Metro apps that are on the App Store, you can see why it’s priced as is. In addition to train times and a station diagram, we enable people to either make their trip quicker or more enjoyable. Our testers have told us that it is a bargain for the time they save walking down the platform or the chance to grab that empty seat. We believe that users will not be hesitant due to the price since (unlike riding the Metro) Metro Master is a one-time payment for unlimited use. As a frame of reference, Metro Master costs less than the price of going from Bethesda to Metro Center during rush hour. When people start thinking about how often they make a trip of a similar price, we think they'll realize the value they can get from Metro Master.

On Foot: What's your sense of WMATA's own web tools and outreach over the last year? There's been a lot of emotion surrounding the transit agency through its constant repairs and its forays into social media. Is the Metro hate fair?

Since the Metro system hasn’t been rehabilitated in quite some time, it is understandable why there currently are frequent repairs and construction. Unfortunately this is a cause of frustration to riders. We believe that Metro Master complements the tools that WMATA already has available and we hope it may even be able to allay some frustration by providing quicker and more comfortable trips.

On Foot: Your Metro Master app says it'll include trivia. Can you give any examples?

We created a total of 114 quiz questions to test your Metro knowledge.  You can raise in ranks, from Metro Novice to Metro Apprentice to Metro Master. Here is one of our favorite questions: How many stations include a shape in their name? (IE, Dupont CIRCLE, McPhereson SQUARE, etc.).

The trivia is yet another unique feature of Metro Master that we feel will attract users to the app. We learned a lot about the Metro through this experience and hope that others will want to do the same.

Read more about the Metro Master app at Glidden and Thal's website and at the iTunes App Store.

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