Beautiful in simplicity: Mendocino Transit Authority’s redesigned website

Mendocino Transit Authority (MTA) provides a network of long distance, commute and local fixed routes, plus local dial-a-ride services in California’s Mendocino County (population 88,000). The agency’s 2800-square-mile service area of rugged coastline and rolling hills north of San Francisco encompasses cities and towns, vineyards and farms. MTA customers include tourists, students, farmworkers and professionals. In 2012, MTA overhauled its passenger information materials to make a complicated network of services easier to understand and use.

Trillium collaborated with terrific MTA staff, Selena Barlow of Transit Marketing and independent contractor Paul Clay, to create mendocinotransit.org. The new website’s information design echoes the feel of MTA’s new print information, offering customers all the information they need to use public transportation in one or two clicks. An uncluttered homepage presents a clear overview of the service so that customers understand the whole network. Essential information is also available in Spanish.

Let’s take a walk through the site.

Welcome to Mendocino Transit Authority. Our new homepage design was the result of careful choices about the most important information and features. We placed essential top-level links (maps and schedules, fares, how to ride, and connections), along with a trip planner form, regional map, and news/alerts are “above the fold,” so visitors wouldn’t have to scroll. Below the fold are links to secondary service and administrative information. An image of Mendocino’s gorgeous rugged coastline “sets the scene” as the background on which information is presented.

A map that’s worth 1000 words. MTA’s new homepage features an interactive network overview map. Click any line, and the schedule page opens — convenient 1-click navigation. In addition, this regional map helps MTA build awareness about their services. The same map is also included on printed schedules, so passengers are regularly reminded of of services they might find useful for future trips.

A smooth trip plan.  Passengers enter where they are traveling to and from, and what time. Google Maps provides itineraries with routes, stops, transfers, times, and the fare. The Google Maps transit trip planner even provides information about connecting services in Santa Rosa and throughout the Bay Area. The trip planner form keeps an automatic log of user searches to help MTA plan services and measure return on investment.

Complex fares, simplified.  MTA’s website includes a convenient fare calculator (in addition to typical fare tables).  Enter the regions you are traveling between, and the calculator returns one-way regular and reduced fares.

Accessible information.  People who are sight-impaired use special software called a “screen reader” that reads the contents of a page aloud using text-to-speech technology. Blind users generally navigate the web using their keyboard, rather than a mouse, to select links and content items. Certain web pages work well with screen readers, while others do not. Mendocinotransit.org is built to be friendly for people who use screenreaders by using standards-compliant pages and HTML tables instead of PDF documents. For more, see Trillium’s article “Creating accessible transit websites.”

Seamless multi-modal connections.  People get around by many modes, so we don’t believe a transit website should pretend it’s the only game in town. To provide more options and make transit more competitive with driving, MTA’s website highlights opportunities to connect to other agencies. A comprehensive “Transportation Connections” page provides information about regional bus services, rideshare, and specialized transportation. Route-specific connection information appears right next to the timetables — see below.

Mobile for mobility.  Customers that access the site from a mobile phone see a mobile-friendly version of the site, with quick access to important information, the trip planner, and 3rd party applications for their mobile phone.

En Español, por favor?   A Spanish-language page provides essential service information to customers.

Simple, easy, low-cost management.   An open-source content management system (CMS) makes it easy for MTA staff to update news and service alerts.

There’s an app for this.   MTA’s website includes an “App Center” which highlights many third-party applications for trip planning and other purposes like accessibility, offline schedules, and even finding housing near transit lines. By plugging into the new universe of attractive, popular third-party applications able to display data to transit customers. MTA makes precious service marketing dollars go further.

Aaron is the founding principal of Trillium Solutions, Inc. He brings experience that includes 12 years of web-development with 8 years in public transportation, with knowledge of fixed-route transportation, paratransit, rural transportation, and active transportation modes. Aaron is a recognized expert in developing data standards, web-application design, digital communications, and online marketing strategy. He originally developed Trillium’s GTFS Manager, and has played a key role in the development of the GTFS data specification since 2007.