I still can’t quite figure out what is going on with the Metro website. It is probably not the most important detail right now, but it is something you would think wouldn’t take much effort to get right – not to mention that I feel they have never really got it right. Communication with users of public transport is very important, and one of the best ways that this can be achieved is online. So how is the Metro website stacking up right now?
Lately there seems to have been a lot of tinkering going on, without anything fundamental actually changing. This is a shame, because, as I said, the website was not really great to begin with. It looked awful, seemed to be barely updated, lacked a coherent structure, and altogether seemed like a token effort. Lately it seems to have improved by a small margin, and I have noticed an incremental increase in news updates, although it still doesn’t seem anything like it should be (and the updates seem to be largely due to post-earthquake changes rather than generic updates on system operation).
I notice some funky links on the right hand side of the home page; “2012 – Back to School”, “Bikes on Buses”, and “Metro on your Mobile”. That seems new and is kind of good, although I think the update on routes no longer operating should be there too as a “bus routes are changing” kind of link. There is still the strange Metrostar bus in the top right-hand corner, which looks like something I did (i.e., not very good). There still seems to be no logic to the news/updates displayed on the homepage, it is just there and I am unable to determine how relevant it is to today – there are no dates or anything to indicate how up-to-date they are. At least the links at the top are clear and straightforward, but the links to the left clutter the place up and probably aren’t needed (just like some of the meandering bus routes I was talking about the other day). Nevertheless, it still looks boring, uninviting, and barely “live”.
Lets look at the Metlink website for Wellington public transport.
The homepage has a prominent and easy to use journey planner, timetable finder, live departures, and latest tweets. I do like the idea of the tweets. In short, its pretty easy to see what does what. Up top are links to ticket and fare information, news, general information, and service updates. To the right are popular links, including one to a network map which is notable for being a schematic (i.e., like the London tude map). The Christchurch Metro Map is, in contrast, a geographic map, and in my opinion very hard to read. It looks like a pack of coloured noodles spilled on the kithen floor (which just happens to look like a map of Christchurch). Overall, the site is bright, clean, informative (but not too informative), and easy to use.
Auckland’s Maxx website is even more simple.
Prominient is a “where do you want to go in Auckland?” box, which is very useful. To the right of that are live departures (by bus stop), and clear links up the top to the journey planner, timetables, service updates, events, and general info. Down the bottom are some useful links/promotions. I don’t quite like it as much as the Metlink site, although its simple, straightforward and easy to use nature are redeeming features.
Certainly both the Metlink and MAXX sites are better than the Metro one. They are both nicer to look at, easier to use, and show that some thought has been applied to who uses the site and what they want to get out of it. For instance, on the Metlink and MAXX sites the most useful tools are quite in your face. The Metro site tries too hard to give every feature and section of the site equal status, illustrated by the cluttered list to the left of the homepage. Why not chuck the journey planner right on the home page, for example. Give some order to latest announcements and news, perhaps by including a date. Get rid of those links on the left, people can find them through the broader subject links at the top.
I don’t want to be too harsh, Metro have had a hell of a lot to deal with over the last year, and altogether have done a smashing job given the circumstances. Remember, patronage actually increased towards the end of 2011. I know that a lot of stuff just hasn’t been possible with the website as the earthquake caused a number of logistical issues, so think of this as a critique going forward more than anything else. It is a quick win really. Hopefully the recent “tidy-ups” lead to something substantially better.