Friday, December 2, 2011

The T opens its doors and then some

©2011 Boston to a T
For years the MBTA has struggled to keep their riders informed about whats happening behind the scenes at the nations fifth busiest mass transit organization. Over the past year the MBTA has been very busy trying to keep the system in working order. They have been plagued by their ever aging equipment, started new construction projects, deciding on what to do with their commuter rail contract, and drafting a new capital investment plan. During this time many commuters who utilize the MBTA have been looking for information in regards to what is being done behind the scenes to improve the system but have been left with few answers. But in recent weeks the MBTA has gone through a significant Public Relations overhaul making them a lot more user friendly.

The Old Website 
The New Site 
One of the largest improvements that the T has launched in the past few weeks was their new mobile website.The original site, which was launched in 2006, was considered to be cutting edge for its time. Over the past few years however the site has become subject to the ever increasing use of smartphones. The old site was very hard to maneuver on today's touch screen smartphones causing commuters to try and find other ways to get MBTA information on the go. The new site is a huge upgrade form the original design. The site is designed for large screen smartphones, with more features and a full color design. It also introduces a real-time Google Maps trip planner, a service-alerts box color-coded by subway line and mode of transit, and a customer comment form. The new comment form allows riders to report anything from a maintenance issue to an unruly passenger or they can praise excellent service all while on the go. These comments get sent directly to an MBTA customer service representative.The customer comment form is inspired by Boston’s award-winning Citizens Connect application, which lets people snap pictures of problems and beam concerns to City Hall.The most interesting feature that I have found on the new site is the fact that it can actually recognize the type of smart phone you are using and present a format optimized for that specific phone! The T paid $25,000 for the site, which was built by Usablenet, a firm that has designed mobile sites for Amtrak, British Airways, jetBlue, and others.

Social media has also been a huge venue that the MBTA has been trying to tap. In the past year the MBTA has launched a Twitter account, a YouTube Chanel, and more recently a Flickr Photo Stream. All of these social media platforms have been allowing the MBTA to become a little more transparent. The Twitter account which uses the name @MBTAgm allows customers to tweet the GM any issues questions they may have during their commute. The MBCR has also set up a twitter account (@MBCR_info) that allows Commuter Rail customers to ask the company questions and get a quick response! The T's new Flickr account (created only a few weeks ago) has been a great asset to their social media platform. The site allows them to post pictures and videos of ongoing construction project around the system. Currently the site shows some great shots of the ongoing Red Line shutdowns! Although the MBTA has been doing very well with these other social media ventures YouTube has been a bit of a struggle for them. Unlike New York's MTA , which posts new videos about construction, history, or employees once a week, the MBTA hasn't posted a new video in seven months and the quality of the six videos on the account is subpar. Other than the YouTube account the MBTA has really done a great job breaking themselves into the social media network. If they want to continue to strive however I feel like they must base what they are doing off of other transit agencies social media platforms like the MTA.

Another interesting program that the MBTA has recently launched to create more of a link with its passengers is the new "MBTA Opens its doors" campaign. This pilot program is going to allow the public to go into different MBTA buildings to check out what makes the system run behind the scenes! The buildings being featured are the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility (BET), the Everett Subway Maintenance facility,  and the Operations Control Center. This is the first time that the MBTA has ever opened up its facilities to the public. Personally, I am very excited to get the chance to go on one of these tours. In my opinion these tours will show the public that the T isn't failing because of incompetence or lack of  laziness. If you decide to tour one of these facilities you will find MBTA employees who are working hard and take pride in their work! The only reason the MBTA is having all of this trouble is the lack of funding not lack of work ethic! I really hope these tours show the people of Boston this! Currently all of the tours for December are booked over capacity but the MBTA says they will be scheduling tours quarterly so keep a look out: HERE. Or email 

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