On Thursday, I provided public comment to the WMATA board.
Here's a summary:
"WMATA should embrace new technology for presenting schedule and routefinding information. Google Transit is one such technology already used by major transit agencies around the US, for example, New York, Chicago, San Francisco's BART, Portland. The June 2008 Lunch Talk with John Catoe mentioned that WMATA was working on presenting schedule information with Google Transit. This is similar to what WMATA has been telling riders about upgrades to Smartrip since at least 2003. It was recently reported that Smartrip program upgrades are now delayed until 2010. I think I speak for a lot of riders when I say with respect to WMATA's effort on Google Transit, "We don't believe you".
I submitted a PARP request about Google Transit, it's been delayed mostly due to staffing levels. The staffing levels for responding to PARP requests should be increased so WMATA can respond to requests within the 20 day PARP requirement. Additionally, WMATA should post more information in the PARP "documents of presumed public interest" section of the webpage to reduce the information that requires a PARP request to obtain."
I'm not the best public speaker, and I drafted my comments mostly on the bike ride over. I probably should have (a) toned down the "we don't believe you" part, since that was somewhat offensive, and (b) done a better job splitting off the Smartrip upgrades that I know will be completed this year from the ones that will be delayed until 2009-2010 (PDF). The Board Chair (Chris Zimmerman of Arlington) immediately corrected me, stating that I had the story on Smartrip wrong. I disagree in part. The upgrades the Chair was talking about are ones that should have been taken care of long ago and are not generally what people are thinking about when they hear the phrase "Smartrip upgrades". WMATA offered to send me more information on Smartrip upgrades, I will present it to you when I get it. They also mentioned that there will be an information presentation at next month's Customer Service, Operations and Safety committee meeting.
Let's take a look at the Smartrip upgrades that will be completed and the proposed schedule:
Complete this year, before end of 2008:
Metro cardholders will be able to add money to their cards at area commuter stores, bus garages that have sales offices, and a select number of Giant stores beginning this fall.
These were the only near-term upgrades mentioned by WMATA's Office of Media Relations in response to my questions about Smartrip upgrades. Nice, but not really the "high technology" I was talking about in my testimony. WMATA purchased some new machines for adding value, and they're installing them in some retail locations. This probably should have been done when Smartrip was rolled out on Metrobus in 2004, not over four years later.
Here's what was in the original 2003 contract (PDF) for delivery in
· Pass functionality (up to 256 types of passes such as unlimited bus or rail passes)
· Autoload (replenish your account automatically when it drops below a certain level, similar to EZ Pass)
· Hot Card List (automatically adds cards to a list of deactivated stolen or invalid cards, currently a manual process).
These features are what the riders are expecting when it comes to Smartrip upgrades. When WMATA tells us "we're working on it (Google Transit)", we don't want to hear three years later that Google Maps will finally know where the actual locations of the escalators are, we want to have full Google Transit functionality.
The audio for my public comment is here, from 0:00 to 4:10 including WMATA's response.