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April 5, 2011 | 32 Comments

From the Blogs: Imagining Your Ideal MetroLink Platform Experience

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You are standing on the MetroLink platforms, waiting for your train. An announcement about another approaching train comes on the PA system, and you listen, carefully this time. What would you want to hear if you could design the overhead announcements? What information would you put out for riders to hear or watch?

The next week, you are waiting with several hundred other passengers after a baseball game downtown. You take a look at fellow waiting passengers, most of whom are busy chatting with each other, and you realize that maybe many of them do not ride transit everyday. Having this with the sea of red-clad sports fans on the platform gives a great opportunity to capture their imagination, and make transit advocates out of the casual rider. How would you do that?

These are the topics that two local bloggers tackled this week on their sites. Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL asked readers to think about overhead announcements and other possible features to let passengers know when the train is coming. Rencelas at Marketing Urbanism made some criticisms and suggestions for Metro on how to make transit advocates out of the casual transit riders that take the train to and from Busch Stadium or other sporting events.

Now we ask you to do some similar imaginative thinking. Picture in your mind a crowded MetroLink platform. Passengers are waiting for their trains, maybe after a baseball game or another large event. What do you like and appreciate about platforms currently? What would you put on the platforms to make it a better experience for riders? How would you use this opportunity to make transit fans out of casual transit riders?

Remember, like any transit agency, Metro is limited by station enhancement funding, life cycle of technology, overall cost and other restrictions in trying to design a system. But as transit advocates and riders, you have invaluable, street-level feedback. So, what could you imagine?

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32 thoughts on “From the Blogs: Imagining Your Ideal MetroLink Platform Experience”

  1. Randy V. says:

    I would encourage new system maps at the stations. The current cluttered, cartoonish maps with cutesy little pictures of various attractions are hard to read, amateurish and ugly. Schematic maps like you see for other transit systems are straightforward, clean and user-friendly.

    1. Courtney says:

      Randy, system maps on platforms are being designed and getting for replacement as we speak. They will have schematic maps for MetroLink and MetroBus.

  2. Isaac says:

    I’d love to see a “You are Here” indicator on the MetroLink line schematic, to make it easy for people who are new to the system to find themselves on the line at a glance. For stations with tracks in the middle, the indicator should show which direction the platform you’re on points to. This could be implemented without replacing the signs by simply producing “You are Here ->” stickers and placing them in the right place on each sign.

    One more thing: Make the line destination signs more intuitive to casual riders. Instead of “Shiloh-Scott,” put “[Downtown and] Illinois” at all stations in Missouri. On the Cross County Extension, wherever it says “Lambert Airport,” it should say “Lambert Airport (via transfer at Forest Park).”

    These come straight from my impressions the first time I rode MetroLink before moving to St. Louis, having ridden transit regularly in a few other cities.

  3. Herbie says:

    Countdown clocks. They would add confidence to riders that trains are on their way and knowledge of their destination. The signs could double as a source of rider information in the event of delays (the current 1 line LED signs are inadequate, in my opinion). Of course, they could also be depressing if the next train is not for 25min. But at least one would know and expect to wait.

    This would be nice. This would be even better.

  4. Sally says:

    Bigger signs indicating which way trains go when entering some platforms. For example, after baseball games, instead of dealing with the crowds at the Stadium station, I walk a few blocks to 8th and Pine to catch the train. Since this is not a station I go to frequently, I never remember which entrance to go into to go westbound. I could see similar issues for any/all stations where the platforms are on the side of the tracks as opposed to the stations where the platforms are in the middle of the tracks. Also, recently I have noticed that sometimes the audio announcements start and that either the LED screens are extremely delayed or do not even show the message. If the signs can’t be replaced (which is understandable because of expenses), the system should be repaired.

  5. Courtney says:

    Sally, do you know which of the signs that you know that are either extremely delayed or don’t show the message? Because we do want to fix those signs.

  6. RTBones says:

    One thing that may help – on the overhead signs, have a countdown clock. If you have ever ridden the Underground (Tube) in London, England, you will know that if you look up at the digital sign, it will tell you when the next train is coming (2 min, 5 min, 30 sec etc). It typically lists the next train (occasionally two), and counts each one down. When the train is approaching, the words all get capitalized, and the phrase “TRAIN APPROACHING” is displayed. Also included in the message is the end point of the train.

    Better maps would also help – especially if you could integrate bus routes with them. A walking distance indicator circle (one mile, two miles, etc) would help.

    A “You are here” marker makes sense too.

  7. Anjana Mohan says:

    > how to make transit advocates out of the casual transit riders

    1) Can Metro talk local establishments into advertising that they are near a Transit stop (bus or train) ? This would help riders envision the places that they could get to without a car. If they could add the number of minutes walk from the stop, that could be even better.

    Or perhaps resources could be allocated within Metro do pull together such an effort – locating the various restaurants, services and other business along the rail allignment (for starters), to give riders a brochure of where they could go with a 2 hr pass.

    2) More advertising comparing the cost of gas and car maintenance and gym membership to a Metro fare (either 1-ride or a pass).

    3) Others have already said variants of this – large, wall size maps showing bus routes and the entire train route. Preferably on an aesthetically attractive, “Google Earth” style aerial view. This will draw people and children to trying to identify their house, which could well be near a bus or train stop.

  8. Sally says:

    Courtney, the ones I’ve noticed are at the Arch and Brentwood. I can’t remember how the 8th and Pine ones were doing when I went to the baseball game last week.

  9. mike says:

    Herbie and RTBones

    The Washington, DC Metro has been using coutdown clocks for several years, and they have the capacity of listing the arrival times for the next three trains. It cuts down on some of the guessing and anxiety while waiting on trains, when you at least know when to expect its arrival. People like to be kept informed when they are in a waiting pattern, especially if it involves prolonged waiting. That is part of providing good customer service.

    Just to add a note: I can’t remember off the top of my head which city was involved, but I read a few years ago that particular city’s public transit system was planning to implement countdown clocks at major bus stop locations, mostly in the downtown CBD. Of course that would be useless in our downtown core area (east of Tucker Blvd) since bus service in that area is virtually non-existent.

  10. RTBones says:

    Mike,

    I’ve logged plenty of miles on the DC metro, I know what you mean. Their clocks are good – and they have the flashing lights embedded on the platform as the train approaches (likely too expensive for Metro to implement, IMO). The London signs are just slightly more informative, possibly because London has multiple lines, some with more than one end point in the same direction.

  11. Jason Fossella says:

    (1) more benches. cause I’m lazy.

    (2) better protection from the weather. it is so nasty during the winter to stand on an open platform.

    (3) a sound barrier between the platform at Grand and the tracks carrying regular trains. it is WAY too loud down there when some of the freight trains go by.

  12. Jason Fossella says:

    also, slightly off topic- has anyone considered capping the tracks between Union Station and Civic Center and putting a parking structure on top? a big enough garage would probably turn a profit.

  13. Dominic Schaeffer says:

    I would LOVE to hear off-the-wall announcements like “Two plus two IS four”, “It is easier to smile than to frown”, “Where we’re going is how we get there”, “First- we begin”, “This is what an announcement sounds like”, “Freedom is a myth”, “We are geared toward the average rather than the exceptional”…

  14. Jason Stokes says:

    For casual riders:

    1. Better signage showing where routes go, and the overall system.
    2. More information about when to expect the next train. Heck, any information about when to expect the next train.
    3. Partner with local businesses (Cardinals, Rams, Wash U, etc.) to brand some of the stations a bit more. They’re awfully dull, especially the ones downtown like 8th & Pine. Even a few posters would go a long way.
    4. Connection information for buses at major bus connection stops

    For frequent riders:
    1. Allow people to take drinks on board. We’re commuters. We want coffee. Forbid food, fine, but drinks are allowed pretty much everywhere.
    2. Less frequent announcements. It’s auditory clutter. No one pays attention to that stuff, except “the next … train is arriving in 30 seconds.”
    3. More seating.
    4. More shade and cover from rain.
    5. In conjunction with #1, someplace to buy concessions at or near the major stops.

    One thing that perturbs me – the barrier at the northeast end of the CWE platform, after crossing the tracks. Instead of immediately going right, I have to walk around a barrier that seems to serve no purpose but to make my life a little more difficult. Remove it.

  15. Erik says:

    While waiting for the Metrolink at the Brentwood station, the announcement says, “The next Westbound train is arriving in 30 seconds.”

    Here’s the catch: if you’re new to riding Metrolink (as we all were at one time), getting on the Metrolink at the Richmond, Brentwood, Maplewood, Sunnen, or Shrewsbury station means you are heading North or South.

    Heck, after the Train turns south in Richmond Heights, it starts running SOUTHEAST! So, when I get on the “Westbound” Blue line in Brentwood, I’m actually travelling Southeast. If I get on the “Eastbound” train, I’ll be heading Northwest. Really, the East/West designation is pointless at that point, unless you’re heading past the curve in Richmond heights.

    My solution: I understand that the East/West designation is valid, for the most part. But, it would be beneficial to further refine the announcements to include a final destination. “The next Westbound train toward Shrewsbury station will arrive in 30 seconds,” or “The next Eastbound train toward Forest Park, Downtown, and Illinois will arrive in 30 seconds,” clears up so much confusion.

    I mean, would that even cost anything to implement?

    1. Courtney says:

      Changing sign announcements, I don’t believe, is a costly upgrade. I will send along your suggestion, seems logical. Thanks!

  16. Jimmy Z says:

    In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for the right or next train, I’d be assured that I’d only have to wait, at most, 5 minutes. In that situation, I really don’t care if the platform has minimal amenities. So, to get there . . . .

    I’m in the minority, but I think doing an iphone app* (that could be migrated to other smart phones), like other properties already have, would be the way to go, for both rail AND buses. Technology is evolving rapidly, and most riders already have some type of cell phone these days – is Metro thinking about adding more pay phones? I didn’t think so!

    Bigger picture requires bigger bucks – many Cardinal games (either their start time or their end time) coincide with the afteroon rush hour. Too little capacity makes it a lot less attractive to both Metro’s regular riders, headed home, AND to the occasional riders, headed to/from the game. Adding more service, in addition to the regular schedule, would be more effective than any whiz-bang technology on the platform itself. Being able to stage the extra trains near the facility (in East St. Louis and at the Missouri maintenance yard) would also be a good thing.

    Rebuilding the platforms to accomodate 3- and 4-car trains (like most other cities do) would allow Metro to add capacity without a significant increase in the number of operators (unlike inserting extra sections into the regular schedule for special events).

    Finally, do more to make buses cool. I’m amazed by the prejudices most occasional riders have against using the bus. Sure, part of it is that local service takes FOREVER to get into the CBD from the ‘burbs. Then fix that – offer special express service from regular and irregular park-and-ride locations – not everyone wants to ride on some bar’s old school bus! Show ’em that Metro’s buses are clean and have great operators, plus I’m sure the operators would love the overtime!

    * http://www.iphoneness.com/iphone-apps/12-best-local-transit-apps-for-iphone/

  17. RTBones says:

    I’ll second the cover from rain, minor concession stand, and allowing drinks on the train remarks. You have vending machines on some platforms, so why not put a small coffee stand there too.

    I have no desire for another garage though.

  18. nA says:

    1. I like Eric’s suggestion of modifying the announcement to say:
    “The next Westbound train toward Shrewsbury station will arrive in 30 seconds,” or “The next Eastbound train toward Forest Park, Downtown, and Illinois will arrive in 30 seconds,”

    2. Better protection from weather. For example, Ballas Transit Center has great stand-by place for passengers. Is that expensive to implement? What purpose do the open shelters at Civic center serve during harsh weather? They are just waste of resources, in my opinion.

  19. mike says:

    Jason F. suggested capping the tracks between Union Station and Civic Center and building a parking structure above it. Feeding off of his suggestion, the structure could be built adjacent to the Union Station stop (with a covered entrance directly from the station’s platform) and possibly house a small plaza, arcade, or mezzanine containing retail outet’s and a newstand, where MetroLink commuters could quickly grab a pizza, a hot dog, soda, a newspaper and other items. Or the structure doesn’t have to contain a parking facility. The point is, make valuable use of the othwerwise unused land not just only at that location, but locations arounds other MetroLink stations particularly along the outer reaches of the Red Line. That would help add appeal to some of those locations that could use a facelift.

    RTBones”s suggestion of adding concession stands (at least to major MetroLink Stations) is another suggestion that could be a way to accommadate MetroLink and Metrobus riders. It works great in New York and other major metro systems. One of Metro’s goals, if I recall, was how the building of MetroLink, could possibly spur economic growth and development around MetroLink stations. Creating facilities to better accommadate commuters would be appealing to the riders by offering more conveniences while traveling on Metro, and may, in some an indirect way, contribute towards economic development and certainly may help generate new Metro ridership by making the system more appealing to use.

    Jimmy Z-Rebuilding train platforms to accommodate longer trains would seem like a logical solution in providing Metrolink an opportunity, or at least giving it room to grow if they are looking to generate new ridership. Obviously, the planners weren’t looking that far ahead in the future when they originally designed the system.

    1. Courtney says:

      Thanks for all the really good, thoughtful ideas and suggestions everyone! They will be passed along to the necessary people here at Metro as feedback.

  20. mike says:

    In order for Metro to evolve into a highly efficient, major transit system, to accommodate a major metropolitan area and help in contributing towards economic growth, they will need to get away from the small-time mindset of trying in operating their transit system. Metro has to give itself the opportunity to grow, and they can not do so when they continue to make small time plans and decisions in operating their system, which only provides for limited future growth.

  21. mike says:

    I forget to use my edit button in my last comment. The last two words in the third sentence “of trying” should have been deleted.

  22. Tanesha H. says:

    I would like Metro to look into the adopting a code of conduct policy for all riders… people are so rude on the bus and train even though undercover police are suppose to ride the train and bus people still talk rudely, loudly on both and cursing and no sagging pants should be tolerated allowed. Also the picture on most buses shows an older radio that is not allowed but all ipods or smartphones should be used with earphones. Most drivers tend to ignore all the ruckus on the bus and metrolink.

  23. mike says:

    Tanesha H.

    I agree but I think it has gone beyond merely just a code of conduct issue. I think Metro security will have to come up with a joint effort plan with the other law enforcement jurisdictions (SLPD and St. Louis County Police) to better patrol trains and buses, and more aggressively go after people who violate Metro’s code of conduct policies.

    Funding that effort may be an issue but Tanesha H., I agree that something has to be done. Otherwise, Metro’s ridership can be affected especially among those who use public transit as an option.

  24. RTBones says:

    Mike and Tanesha H,

    I’m with Mike – I think this is more than a code of conduct issue. I can say I have certainly been on buses where the drivers essentially ignored the “ruckus” at the back of the bus. That may partially be for liability reasons (I’m not a lawyer, but that would be my guess.) It does need to be addressed, particularly in light of what has recently happened in the Loop. If the trend continues, Metro may lose some casual riders that can choose. But I think it almost has to be a joint plan – Metro, STLPD, County Police. As to funding such an effort…maybe Metro can throw some communal ducats in a bucket with local authorities to pool resources.

    As to prejudice against buses – that is a common theme in transit, at least here in the US. In St. Louis, it doesn’t help that in some areas, you can continually be hit up for “bus fare”. The Civic Center bus depot area is notorious for this. In my last 10 trips through there, I have only NOT been hit up for cash twice. People need to feel safe to be comfortable riding. My experience with folks that can choose here (mostly non-transit riders) has been they don’t, so they won’t ride. They’ll take a train, but won’t go anywhere near a bus.

    Ball games and major events will not make a transit fan out of someone. Yes, they may take the bus/train to the game, but they won’t ride it regularly. Game/events are “special” – one offs. Schedules are known and followed (Ballgame over? Take the train or “Redbird Express” to my parking lot and drive home. Don’t have to worry about a bus not coming or figuring out where to go.) The only way to get folks to ride regularly is to give them a system they can use – one that goes where they want, when they want (within reason), that they feel safe on, is relatively inexpensive, and easy to figure out. Riders need to be able to figure out the system, something difficult to do in St. Louis with our signage the way it is. Doing any of that requires a major change in mindset of Metro and local urban planners. Give up the gimmicks – if people think the system works and is safe, they’ll ride. Our system is not set up to be a transit system – it is set up primarily for commuters, getting folks to work and home but little else. Faced with an hour plus bus ride or a 20 minute drive, most will drive. Most of the municipalities in the county are not set up for walking, which is part of the benefit of transit – you don’t need to drive because you can transit and walk to get where you need to be. In the city, there is the stigma that buses are unsafe – which gets reinforced by silly instances like what happened in the Loop, constant loitering, and begging.

    I realize almost all of what I just mentioned has been discussed before. I also know it all takes money, which Metro has a limited supply of. I’m just throwing it out there.

  25. mike says:

    RTBones

    As usual you are right on point with your comments. You are a great advocate for improving public transit for our area.

    One question that I have: Now that permanent funding is in place following the passage of Prop. A., how much of the anticipated 75-80 million dollars generated from the one-half cent sales tax will actually go towards Metro’s operating expenses. I recall when Metro was campaigning for that same amount of funding under Prop M. (which failed resulting in the 2009 service cuts), they promised improved and enhanced bus service over the levels that existed at that time, if that measure had been approved.

    Now that funding is in place after the passage of Prop A., I only see marginal improvements in bus service since the Restoration Program began, and the current service is not even equal to the service level that existed prior to the 2009 service cuts.

    1). Will Metro eventually provide the service improvements and enhancements, they originally promised, when they were campaigning for the passage of Prop. M.?

    2). What can people in this region expect to see in the future, as far Metro’s efforts in revamping it’s bus system, to make it efficient and convenient to use, and lure people, especially the non-users, or its, as RTBones puts it “casual riders”, away from the convenienes of driving their private vehicles and ride buses.

    3). Also Courtney, how many Metro employees, besides yourself, regularly ride buses to get back and forth to work, or to just plain get around? Maybe they could be role models (and not for just one day) and illustrate to the public how convenient it is for them to use buses, at its current level of service, on a daily basis. Maybe the increase in bus ridership Metro is seeking can start at home with its own employees, including Mr. Nation.

    1. Courtney says:

      Mike,

      Thanks for your comments. I’ll see if I can answer them adequately:

      1). Service has been restored to levels existing prior to the 2009 service cuts. It is not the same service as before, as changes in demographics, employment centers, and other community needs as well as planning strategies reconfigured many of the routes. It will not look the same, but it has return to or near 2009 levels. A large emphasis is on better integration of rail and bus; they work together and complementary as part of one system.

      2). We are working on bus system amenities to help encourage bus ridership – one big one being GPS technology on all buses, allowing for real-time arrival data. The program is underway, but will not be available until around 2013 as currently scheduled. We are also able to purchase new vehicles, and working on text-based alerts/info available for each stop. These will take some time for implementation. As always, their progress will be reported on Nextstop.

      3). I’m not sure of the latest commuter audit, but most likely we will complete one this year. We do have many employees (and there are 2400 of us) who ride buses, but I think it is a great idea to encourage more employees to take transit to work when possible.

  26. RTBones says:

    Hey Courtney –

    If I can follow up on Mike’s (thanks for the kind words, by the way, Mike) post briefly:

    1) GPS – do we know yet what form the GPS arrival data will take? Will there be signs at bus stops that indicate when the next bus will come, or will it be something that you’d access with your mobile phone/computer/iPad? Something else entirely?

    2) Want a challenge? Have all of Metro’s management ride Metro for a month everywhere they go (not just to and from work). I’d hazard a guess that some eyes might get opened.

    1. Courtney says:

      1). Some sort of technological application for text/smart phone/phone etc. At stop arrival for each stop would be prohibitively expensive to purchase and maintain, I imagine.

      2). Does sound like a good challenge, in general it would be great to encourage Metro employees to ride as often as possible.

  27. mike says:

    Courtney,

    Please keep us posted when that challange becomes a work in progress, as well as the outcome of that project. It would be interesting to know how many Metro employees and managers would participate, and how many of them would continue riding buses on a regular basis after that one month period ends.

    Thanks Courtney for all of your responses and for keeping us current on issues with Metro.

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