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Comic teaches new customers how to ride transit

San Francisco's BART has created a great new comic book to help new riders learn to navigate the system. Could it work here?

For new riders, any transit system can seem daunting at first. This effort might make it easier for people to figure out how to try transit, and perhaps help make them regular riders.

The BART system is very similar to Metro, right down to the graduated fare system. In many respects this comic could easily be used here, just by changing some names. And based on the number of (tourist) riders I see at Greenbelt each morning trying to go in an out gate, some people could clearly use a little extra instruction.

It's good to see a transit agency trying new ways of communicating with riders. What do you think Metro could do to make it easier for new riders?

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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I always try to remember how I felt when I first started using Metro... especially before I got SmarTrip and was trying to estimate exact O-D costs so I'd stop ending up with paper cards that had 20 cents on them & then trying to figure out how to refill vs. get a new card. Sure, it's all easy once you've been through it- but daunting that first time. And we get plenty of first timers.

The more helpful info that can be put into graphical format: the better. I also love when I see station managers & extra staff on hand to help visitors out -- especially at the downtown & fringe stations at the peak of tourist season.

by Bossi on Nov 11, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

I've seen some people try to use a fare gate with the red symbol and couldn't figure out why their fare card wasn't working. This graphic may help.

by Davin Peterson on Nov 11, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

Maybe if Frank Cho did the artwork. Brandy and a weiner dog would pull readers in!

by Crickey7 on Nov 11, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

Maybe Metro could communicate to stand on the right on the escalators, explain which fare machine to go to (farecard machines accepting only cash or farecard/pass machines accepting other payment), suggest that riders note whether the fare machine is giving change (I had this problem on BART).
This seems like a good idea that the WMATA communications department should embrace.

by DCster on Nov 11, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

That guy looks so happy!

We are actually working on something like this for our website - simple "how-to" guides with illustrations. Will keep you posted when they're up.

by goDCgo on Nov 11, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

"I've seen some people try to use a fare gate with the red symbol and couldn't figure out why their fare card wasn't working. "

And you think they can be helped?

by Brian White on Nov 11, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

The way metro indicates a faregate to be used or not used (the red symbol or green symbol) is, like much of the system, beautifully subtle. But subtlety is not easily apparent to first time users and, with the faregates, maybe a wee bit too subtle since I've seen people who obviously know the system run up to and try to use a red gate.

But, the solution can be cool too. Changing the lights on the platforms from yellow/white to red helps a lot. Perhaps simply brightening the red/green symbols a bit would help resolve the faregate issue.

(I'm not colorblind...)

by ColorBlind on Nov 11, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

There should be an addendum about the handicap faregates. I've seen that one trip people up all the time.

by Canaan on Nov 11, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

Actually, the comic (it's a full comic book, not just the few panels shown here) has a page on using the handicapped faregate, including the fact that the farecard comes out the same slot you put it in.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 11, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

the cartoon BART rider looks like Larry David

by Tina on Nov 11, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

Clearly BART needs to hire Larry David to do some live action versions of the comic book. I really do want to see that happen.

by Bossi on Nov 11, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

Maybe BART should work on planning better transit-oriented development and system expansions than telling users how to use a faregate.

by Phil on Nov 11, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

I lived in the bay area for 3years and know bart very well. You are right that is very similar to Metro and the comic book is a good idea, however I think we are missing the main issue here, why does it take 23 pages to explain how the system works? The whole process is no intuitive that's why, and nobody, specially tourists is going to print or remember the whole book. The solution here is to take a page from high turnaround processes, like the toll in a highway (you know how much to pay and where to go before pulling in) or the counters at a supermarket, heck even the checkin machines for car rental in an airport. Those systems know they HAVE to move people or cars in/out fast.
additionally, with a multimodal system, you wan to know the destinations and cost BEFORE you decide the mode. That's one of the fails of the comic book, it tells you what to do once you have decide you are taking bart, but what if you had other options (caltrain, muni, ...or bus, cabi, cab, ....)
so now we have another effort to try to adapt the user behaviour to the system, rather than the other way round...that will go nowhere but an extra $$ for the marketing agency

by RE on Nov 12, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

I think they should add an electrical shock if you try to go through the fare-gate backwards. That will cause people to learn faster.

Seriously though this is sooo unnecessary. People who are going through the gate backwards are the people who do NOT read directions. I don't think they will be any more likely to read them in comic book form. You could plaster the walls of the station with these things and these same morons would still be trying to go through the wrong way. Might make for some nice decoration though.

by Doug on Nov 12, 2011 3:23 pm • linkreport

What do you think Metro could do to make it easier for new riders?

By hiring customer-friendly personnel in stations that understand that barking is not the right way of approaching new customers. The ability to speak plain English would also be nice, especially for alien tourists and people from the Heartland.

by Jasper on Nov 14, 2011 7:06 am • linkreport

The people who most need the comic are the least likely to get one. Are we going to hand a 20+ (seriously!) page booklet to every DC visitor?

How about using signage where it's needed? Are people stupid enough to try and go through a clearly marked (with an international symbol) going to be smart enough to read a comic and change their ways? Seriously?

by Michael Rogers on Nov 14, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

New 21st century fare vending machines with touch screens would certainly make purchasing fare media easier and could also provide electronic calculation of the fare for the planned trip.

WMATA is already planning to accept smart credit and debit cards, but that step is still a few years away.

by Steve Strauss on Nov 15, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

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