Home MTA Technology MTA to unveil website redesign on Wednesday

MTA to unveil website redesign on Wednesday

by Benjamin Kabak

Forget CBTC subway cars with air brakes and automated announcements. Forget countdown clocks and contactless fare payment cards. This news tonight — news that the MTA will unveil a redesigned and updated website on Wednesday — is, ladies and gentlemen, the surest sign that the agency is starting to get serious about technology.

Since 2003, the MTA’s website has received nary an update. Web 2.0 with all of its interactivity and customer interaction took over the Internet, and the MTA’s site remained materially similar to its late-1990s iterations. Since I’ve started blogging in November 2006, we’ve seen the MTA’s site suffer through some growing pains. A July 2007 power outage that curtailed service along the East Side IRT and sent users to the agency’s site led to an outage, and the August 2007 flood and subsequent traffic spike knocked out the agency’s site as well.

Meanwhile, the agency’s regional and national competitors have recently unveiled new site designs. In Washington, the WMATA’s site redesign earned rave reviews, and recent NJ Transit and Port Authority site overhauls have also been well received. Still, the MTA’s site, a mish-mash of boxes and links and agencies, lumbered ever forward.

When new MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder assumed the reins in October, he knew he wanted to overhaul the agency’s site, and this week, in conjunction with his first 100 days in office, Walder will flip the switch on a new site. “We’re not cutting-edge; let’s not kid ourselves. But we’re getting closer,” Walder said to The Times today. “The idea here was not to break new ground; the point was to provide good service to our customers. Customers want to be able to find out how to get from point A to point B; they want to see right away whether or not the train or the buses they’re looking to get on are on schedule.”

The MTA’s site is popular, second only to Amtrak among the nation’s transit providers. At its peak, the agency sees 1.8 million unique users per month and over 25 million page views. Now, it will be better, and Michael Grynbaum offers a first look:

Real-time information on delays and service interruptions — difficult if not impossible to find on the current site — is the first thing that catches a viewer’s eye. A widget on the home page compiles continually updated service status for every subway, bus and commuter rail line in the region, along with nine of the bridges and tunnels operated by the authority.

The information is color coded (red for delays, green for good service) and divided into categories (subway, rail, bus) by tabs, similar to a Web browser that allows users to toggle through multiple pages. At a glance, readers get a sense of whether the F train back to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, for instance, will be smooth sailing or an underground maelstrom.

Also prominent on the new home page is a feature called “Plan & Ride,” which lets users find door-to-door directions across several modes of transportation. The feature is similar to HopStop.com and the authority’s own TripPlanner application, although entering a search sends users directly to a Google Maps page…

The authority already licenses its scheduling data to Google, and Mr. Walder said that it made more financial sense to take advantage of an already popular outside service rather than to continue investing in a proprietary application.

The new site, says The Times, will also “make it easier for outside software designers to get free access to system timetables and routes.” The MTA has long been criticized for its approach to scheduling data and other route information, and I recently wondered when the authority would catch the open information bug. The answer, it seems, is soon.

When it goes live, the new site will still be a work in progress, and some web designers wish it could be “sexier.” Still, mobile versions for Blackberry and iPhone are in the works, and Transit has embraced Twitter. I’ll have a full review of the new site when it goes live, but I’m very encouraged by this news. A website redesign has been a long time coming for the MTA, and it shows a commitment to communication and customer service that had been, for a few years, lacking. Hopefully, this new site design is a sign of things to come.

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Scott E January 11, 2010 - 9:53 am

I think the NYT article got it right…. it still looks a bit dated (the banner at the top was my first turn-off) but a vast improvement. The true test will be how the menus open up: do they link to new pages or do they “explode” like the current one (requiring very precise movement of the mouse)?

The “banner headline” section in the lower-left concerns me. Hopefully that won’t turn into a lengthy unorganized repository for all information, as the banners do on the current site.

This is an interesting quote from the NYT article though: “The new site will also make it easier for outside software designers to get free access to system timetables and routes.” I wonder how this will work and whether it’s open to ALL software designers or only a privileged few.

Benjamin Kabak January 11, 2010 - 9:59 am

I’m cautiously optimistic about that final point, but the MTA has promised some variation of open data since Sept. 2008. I’ll believe it when I see it.

As for the overall aesthetic, we can’t expect the MTA to be on the cutting edge of website design, but this new one is far superior to the current iteration of the site. I’m happy about the redesign. We’ll see in two days how well it works.

SEAN January 11, 2010 - 11:08 am

I wonder how the new site will work with screen readers such as JAWS.

Eric January 11, 2010 - 11:56 am

Running down the right side, they still have way too many unorganized links.

Scott E January 11, 2010 - 12:40 pm

Perhaps. I think the title of the last section, “Accountability/Transparency”, is more politically driven than it is descriptive. I got a chuckle out of that one.

Marc Shepherd January 11, 2010 - 12:37 pm

The most important question is whether it continues to improve, or if this is the final revision for a long time. Walder clearly wanted to get something out there quickly, and that meant that the first attempt wasn’t going to be perfect.

Some points are matters of taste. I do not object to the list of links along the right-hand side.

herenthere January 11, 2010 - 3:08 pm

and some web designers wish it could be “sexier.”

YES! Maybe some Flash content of current news/events or new projects, etc. Or an option for an “enhanced site”. Plus, a link to the site offered in various languages should be available too.

Can’t wait to try the new one out! And Ben- you should save screenshots/archive the current one to use in future posts!

pete January 11, 2010 - 6:12 pm


Lets make a brand new computer crawling slow. Lets make a 1 year old computer feel like dialup. Cellphones and flash? forget it. Disabled folks who use screen readers or keyboard navigation and flash? forget it.

herenthere January 12, 2010 - 4:20 pm

Like I said, there could be an option for a Text Site, as is shown in the picture, or an enhanced site. For cellphones, a mobile version would be provided, just as most other transit sites have.

Sunny January 11, 2010 - 3:08 pm

YES! One of my biggest criticisms of the MTA website is that it very strictly defines what is an “alert” and what is an “advisory”. Looks like planned work will finally make the homepage…

Anon January 11, 2010 - 7:49 pm

heck if I remember what the website used to look like before changing to mta.info from http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us

it’s not in the ay back machine…

anyone have old screen grabs?

rhywun January 11, 2010 - 8:49 pm

I’d love them to bring back the neighborhood maps while they’re at it.

Think twice January 11, 2010 - 9:50 pm

Preferably for a homepage, less is more. They should only put up the itinerary planner, service alerts, and map links on the homepage. The rest should go under the tabs from the top.

Andrew January 11, 2010 - 10:13 pm

I don’t care if it “looks dated” (whatever that means) – that’s a stylistic issue. I care that I can easily find the information that I need to find. On the old website, that’s often not the case. This one looks like an improvement, although it’s obviously impossible to tell from just a screen shot.

The service status section is clearly modeled after the similar section on the Transport for London website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

And I love the Latin bit!

MTA Debuts New Website — Transit Blogger January 13, 2010 - 3:30 pm

[…] to the MTA website compared to other transit agencies. So it was no surprise to see he was all over this the other day. I am sure he will have a thorough update in the coming […]


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