MBTA testing new Web site; aimed at mobile users

Beta MBTA Web site

beta.mbta.com is a possible redesigned T Web site.

First impression is that, like boston.gov, it's designed to be best viewed on a phone or other mobile device. Makes sense, given that T users, by definition, are on the go, but it means an awful lot of useless white space for people still at their desks. But what do you think?

H/t Ari Ofsevit.



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      Already done and done better

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      I already have apps on my phone that do what MBTA site redesign attempts to do and they do it better than a web site ever will because they can get continuously updated location information that a web site can't, at least not seamlessly.

      On my Android phone now, In decreasing order of usefulness:
      Google Maps
      MBTA Rail

      What none of them does, or does well, is show me a grid of transit options so I can plan a trip ahead of time. When's the first train to Salem on Saturday? What are my options for the return trip? I can't do that with any of the above apps. The current design of the MBTA.com is indispensable for doing that. Please don't fuck that up.



      It just embeds the mobile MBTA schedule webpage. Unclear what will happen to it once this site goes live.

      Why not both?

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      Loads of sites have parallel designs for mobile and desktop apps. Why not the MBTA's?


      Fixed it for ya

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      '...T users, by definition, are waiting for scheduled adjustments....'


      Looks a lot like...

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      ...transit agencies with newer websites, like Portland (OR) Tri-Met or Denver's RTD. After a while they all start to look the same - there's some out there too which look a lot like the MBTA's, clearly haven't redesigned in a while.

      I played with commuter rail and bus schedules. The inclusion of alerts (commuter rail) and real-time arrival data on bus pages is good. I'm not particularly a fan of the way the train timetables are displayed, and the bus pages are almost horrible at telling you what will happen in the future. Seems to me like they need a better way to alternate between "show me what's happening now," "show me the trips around a time I specify," and "just let me look at the whole damn schedule." I fall into that last category, and the current setup makes me dig all the way through to the "line information" tab to hunt for the PDF link to see the full timetable. Maybe I'm alone on this, but I feel like a full timetable link should be further up/more prominent. As one of the first commenters stated, that ability to see the big picture is why the transit agency's website is often so much more useful than all the apps out there.

      A note about RTD's website:

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      A note about RTD's website: While it may be the same design style as the MBTA's new one, it's MUCH more functional. Much easier to find things, much more intuitive, and even more interesting.

      The reason you optimize for mobile is that that's the way the

      world is going. We crossed the "more online time on mobile than static devices" threshold a few years ago. Further, Google is now rewarding mobile-friendly websites with higher search rankings, a huge economic motivator.

      The smartest designs are responsive, i.e., they adapt on the fly to the display device, so it looks good whether you're on a smartphone or a three-monitor desktop.

      Now only if the MBTA would

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      Now only if the MBTA would optimize their commuter rail for commuter rail use.


      But that would mean changing

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      But that would mean changing the operating model! Maybe even stepping back to think about the underlying purpose of running commuter trains. The T has *always* hauled around long trains of mostly-closed cars every few hours using slow, unreliable engines that belch smoke.

      When the T first unveiled

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      When the T first unveiled this to the Customer Opinion Panel, I told them how terrible it looks. Never got a response back, and it doesn't seem to have changed at all in the months since then. I wish I'd saved a copy of the feedback I wrote them...

      When looking at schedules there's far more clicking and scrolling necessary than on the current website. And I absolutely loathe how they 'simplified' the schedules by only showing 6 trains at a time, whereas before they showed the entire schedule at once.

      Then of course there's the fact that the unlabeled, small, and completely unhelpful maps on the line information pages are not even done well (e.g. the Rockburyport one shows an extra line going from North Beverly to Rockport).

      And heaven forbid you want to look at a schedule for a date in the future. After far too many clicks you're presented with a calendar to pick the date. Was choosing between weekday and weekend/holiday too complicated for people? And then instead of the idiotic 6 trains at a time, or a PDF like I hoped, instead you get a schedule displayed in a completely different manner - a vertical listing of trains. Still not the whole schedule, but more than 6. Unfortunately it only shows the times at one stop though! I've yet to be able to find a link to PDF schedules.

      I think my biggest gripe though is that the homepage shows absolutely zero information whatsoever. You have to click to see ANYTHING. And multiple times too. Especially if you want anything regarding buses. A drop-down menu right on the homepage was apparently too complicated, so now you have to click "view all buses", then scroll down and try and pick your route out of a grid of them. So while on the current site bus route alerts are shown right on the homepage (with one click on the bus tab), now you have to go through 2 clicks and a lot of scrolling to even see if your route has an alert at all! Then a third click to actually read it.

      I could go on, and on, and on about this. It is genuinely, absolutely terrible, and the current website, despite being 10 years old, is FAR superior in terms of usability.



      It's a site designed to look pretty, not to be functional. (Functional = Minimizing Clicks)

      This is what happens when your designers don't use the product themselves.

      Not as bad as boston.gov.

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      Not as bad as boston.gov. How many tax dollars did they blow on that again?

      They will save money compared

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      They will save money compared to the old site by providing real-time info only on weekdays.