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New CTA Web site a breath of fresh air -- with lots more information

The CTA enters the 21st Century with the launch of its new Web site some time today after the morning rush.

In a sneak preview Monday night for CTA Tattler and other journalists, we saw a new home page that features a clean, more graphical look -- quite a departure from the previous text-heavy home page.

Quick links in the top right corner take customers to schedules, maps and alerts, with the Trip Planner directly beneath it. These are pages that research shows were the most-visited on the site.

The new site is chock-full of useful information -- with everything from planned and emergency alerts, to RSS feeds for elevator status and bus and train lines.

Other features:

The site redesign was a partnership with Americaneagle.com, a Park Ridge Web development firm that won a $2.6 million contract for lots of stuff, including the Web site -- which cost about $150,000 of that.

Let us know what you think of the new site.

Comments

I'd love to tell you I think, but as of 6:45am, the old site is still active. I think I heard an announcement, though:

BEEP BEEP BEEP. Your attention, please. This website is being delayed due to signals ahead. We expect to be launching the new site shortly. Thank you for riding the CTA.

Wrong message Martha.

BEEP BEEP BEEP

This train is experiencing an equipment malfunction. Your operator is off the train. We are sorry for your inconvenience. Thanks for riding the CTA.

KevinB

Still wrong Kevin B.

BEEP BEEP BEEP

The website upgrade is delayed because the site developer is still waiting for a 22 bus.

Martha, KevinB and UCC: Let's be fair, and reread what I wrote:

"...the launch of its new Web site some time today after the morning rush."

Check back some time between 9 and noon.

>>>
a new home page that features a clean, more graphical look -- quite a departure from the previous text-heavy home page
<<<

So what does this mean for blind users with text-reading browsers? Is the ommission of any mention of accessability indicitive of the reporter's lack of concern, or a deficiency in the actual design?

The text-heavy site that is going away came about primarily because the graphic-heavy previous version was not very accessable. So has CTA and the design firm ignored this segment of the population now, or is it just an omission in reporting?

Rusty, the site meets the rules set for Illinois ADA law, which I'm told is more rigorous than the US ADA law. One link at the top right is "Accessible."

Looking forward to the new CTA site, and I assume one of the accessibility features will be bus schedules in something other than just PDF form. The PDFs also aren't useful on handheld devices.

Well, this thread will be pretty boring until they actually turn on the new site...

BEEP BEEP BEEP

Kevin needs sense of humor update.

[Kevin needs sense of humor update.]

Based on the evidence contained in this comment, I am forced to assume that we've entered a previously undiscovered, hyper-ironic parallel universe.

Brace yourselfs, folks.

Alright, I'll admit to a lack of reading comprehension. I am curious, however, why the launch of the website it tied to the timing of rush hour. Maybe CTA is worried about Tower 18 tying up their servers?

If I had to guess... Post-am rush is an attempt to find the point of least disruption.

If you change it overnight, the people who don't have a spare 10 seconds in their morning routine will be messed up.

If you change it over the weekend, same sort of problem, but worse. Mondays are always worse.

But, most people's going home / pm-rush routines have more slack. or at least it's not going to cost them their job if they're 15 mins late.

I tend to give them some credit for some subtle thinking and working to find the least disruptive time to change.

Its post morning rush because its going to take that damn long for the development team to show up.

What most development teams do on a site turnover is create the new site on a private staging server. When everything's been finalized and approved, they update the DNS records to have the domain name point to the private staging server's IP address. That can take anywhere from a couple of hours to three or four days to propagate. If the CTA is following this -- it's a best practice but not the only way to do it -- once they transfer the domain name to the new IP, you may see it today, you may see it at the end of the week. There are ways to speed that up, including putting redirects on the original site hardwired to the new IP address, but for security reasons many browsers don't follow automatic redirects like that anymore, so that's a bit of a crapshoot.

site is up at 11:13am. The development teams' red line train finally arrived! looks ipod-y

Ok, the new site looks good and easy to use. Is it $150,000 worth of good? well... I guess...

OK, the map section just won me over. A PACE map and night owl map, etc. all in the same place? Good job.

We're in the process of rolling out a new website at work and it cost a lot more than $150,000. If they really did it and only spent that much, good for them.

Actually, using DNS to switch over is not the correct way to do this type of change. I'd hope they are using load balancing directors/frontends. In that case, just update the (private) IPs for the webservers on the directors and you are done. Even keeps peoples sessions on the correct server.

And if you have a multi-day TTL on your DNS records when you have a planned site move, you're not very smart. You can easily have 5 min TTLs and then only have a 5 min cutover. (and, yes, some people's ISPs ignore short TTLs, but that's their problem imho.)

enough geeking, back to transit... :)

some nerdy web programming blog is missing two commentators.

The Quick Links and System Status are great. The icons are much better than tiny text of the old site. I love the Santa Train icon most of all.

The wireless version is very handy, especially the bus schedules, which are broken out by ranges of routes so you don't have to scroll through the whole thing. The the schedules are still in pdf format, which is difficult without a smartphone.

jj's probably right about the reasoning for waiting until after rush hour to launch. I feel shame for my snark, even if I did make myself laugh.

What is the rest of the $2.6Million cost for? They spend money like they actually have some.

"looks ipod-y"

Agreed - looks like the home screen of an iPod Touch, lol

and one BULLSHIT new photo policy

http://www.transitchicago.com/business/photopolicy.aspx

so its ok to bring a point and shoot, but illegal for my SLR? BS CTA

So far I like it. Much cleaner and easy to find things. We'll see if that impression remains as I drill into it.

Nate B,

Can you hold it with your hand? If so, you're free to use your SLR from what I can read.


So far I like the site. Much nicer looking and easy to navigate. I really like the alerts and notices page. It's very easy to see if there will be work impacting your ride.

[so its ok to bring a point and shoot, but illegal for my SLR? BS CTA]

???? Has the photo policy changed at all from what it's always been?

Anyway, I think the new site looks OK.
One thing I do very much like is the "System Status" box on the right side. Quick and easy way to see potential problems withut having to read through all the alerts.

For the most part, so far the new site looks like mostly a cosmetic change, which was probably due in any event but feels like a novelty. Like many others here, I'd like less reliance on pdfs before I call it truly customer-friendly. Pdfs are nice for printing but they're kind of a pain when you simply need a quick piece of info.

I guess I outed myself. I left the tech sector in early '02 and don't miss it at all. So I eagerly bow to those who know what best practices have been developed since then.

They still haven't defined what is a public area though. That tends to confuse the CS Reps.


KevinB

I wonder where they got the rail status by line idea from... as well as a lot of the site.

oh yeah.. http://www.tfl.gov.uk

This is some major progress though, I like it.

I certainly don't care if it resembles another website, as long as they emulate a good one. It doesn't need to be original.

A public area is anyplace you can go as a passenger without passing an "Employees Only" sign.

The photo policy says tripods are out, but nothing about monopods.
Or for that matter, resting a large camera [SLR] on some part of a station, such as a bench, electrical box or the boxes that hold the dock plates for the wheelchairs.

hey! i got a response the SAME DAY! Way to go Joyce!

Dear Mr. Beal:

Thank you for writing to us regarding your questions about your camera. Your camera is considered a hand-held device. I would suggest that you print out the policy to carry with you. If you should encounter any problems, please respond in a polite manner and ask the CTA employee or security person to contact CTA's Control Center for clarity. If this doesn't work, follow the CTA representatives directive(s) and then contact Customer Service 1-888- YOUR CTA or 1 (888) 968-7282 for assistance or let me know and I'll alert the appropriate CTA officials about your concerns.

Again, thank you for your question and for your compliment on the new website design.

Sincerely,

Joyce A. Shaw
Project Coordinator, Advertising

It's 3:30pm with heavy snow and the GCM Chicagoland Expressway Map site shows all the expressways vitually stopped, for example 3 hours from the Circle to O'Hare right now.

CTA's new website reports all rail lines with normal service. I sure hope it's true as it would be a great service to all in today's weather. I'm not so optimistic about bus service though.

I like the new site, but that was freaky seeing how they seem to model after the UK transit site! I certainly hope they didnt pay much for design fees

UIC:

You know that and I know that, but the people out in the stations don't seem to understand that. Their "interpretation" of the policy (I have a copy in my wallet now) is that the public area is outside the fare turnstiles. Last time I had an issue, I called up the Customer Service 800 number and that was their take too, so even they don't know. So, unless the CTA management makes sure their people understand it, then putting something in the policy that defines what a "public area" is would be very helpful.

KevinB

Oops, Alex, I think you just "outed" the designers of the CTA site. Send this info to the Sun-Times. I'm sure they'd get a kick out of it.

Nate B,

Nice job jumping to conclusions and calling "bullshit" on a policy you misinterpreted as well as claimed was new. A bit over an overreaction...

The new site is an improvement. I still like the RTA Trip Planner better than the CTA's Google-driven trip planner feature, though.

Chris-

Where did I mis-interpret? The old policy said "snapshots" were allowed, nothing about the size of the camera, and the new one says "large cameras" since my DSLR and various lenses are bigger than someones pocket sized point and shoots, I took offense and action.

and it is "bullshit", I could go into how does a tripod block people but a stroller or grocery cart doesn't, but whatever.

I agree with Rusty, I too have concerns about the accessibility of the site. I should be able to turn off the CSS styles of the page and get a clean, well-structured plain HTML document.

The list of links at the very beginning of the page should be structured into unordered lists with subordinate lists underneath for each sections links. Instead, it's a jumbled hodge-podge without structure.

Graphics should not be used to maintain large sections of information. Screen readers for the blind can not read what a graphic says. The sections could easily be achieved with floated DIVs and regular text.

I'm very happy that they've done away with most of the structural tables they were using, but there are still some significant improvements that need to be made.

Kevin, the "Accessibility" section is something entirely different than making the site accessible for screen readers, etc.

I believe there are policies for strollers as well. Handheld and snapshots seem to be the same thing in my opinion. Plus, I'm still not so sure they changed the policy yesterday.

But, I'm also glad you can take pictures. Hopefully they don't harass you.

Yes, the new CTA site is probably modeled after TfL's. And hopefully it's the first of many things they model after that system. All Londoners have to complain about are things like "It was hot on the Tube today, HOW WILL WE HANDLE THE OLYMPICS?!?!?"

Tread: "Screen readers for the blind can not read what a graphic says."

True, but screen readers can and do read the alt attribute of an image. The CTA's new site appears to have complete alt attributes throughout, which means they *have* taken that into consideration - that's good!

As I've said before and I'll say again: can someone now devote even $5,000 to updating the Metra site that is easily 12 years old? Please?

Paul, while it's very good that they're using the ALT tags effectively, it still doesn't address my point that it's really just a lazy web design issue to use those graphics instead of textual DIVs.

One other thing I noticed with the mobile site is that they should have the subdomain http://mobile.transitchicago.com instead of having it as a subfolder.

I thought the site looked a lot like the MBTA's, although the resemblance to TfL's is pretty striking.

Before we go and idealize anyone else's transit systems, let me tell you about walking 3 miles from Greenwich to Canary Wharf last month at the peak of evening rush because the DLR just plain died without any explanation. (When the trains did come to, they skipped stops, ran on the wrong tracks, etc., again without any explanation.) Plus, I paid $7 for the privilege. What's more, TfL gets nearly 9X more in tax revenue than CTA: we taxpayers still get what we (don't) pay for.

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