Last week I came across bettertrolley.com, a site built and maintained by local graphic designer Robert Palmer. This morning I had a chance to speak with Palmer about the site and how it came to be.
Palmer’s opinion of the maps and the online trip planner maintained by MTS isn’t very high — he said he finds them difficult to read and more difficult still to use to plan trips. One day soon after the Green Line trolley had opened, he noticed a group of tourists “scratching their heads” over by the posted maps. Palmer, a daily trolley user, helped them figure out where they were trying to go, but he said he knew there more confused people attempting to navigate the system.
“It was one of these things born of frustration,” he said this morning. “These were people who weren’t aware they were in the midst of this giant trolley renovation. I thought, ‘I wish I was in charge; I wish I could control all of this. I could do this so much better’”
A dialogue in his mind ensued, when he said to himself, “Oh yeah? Well, prove it.”
And so the site was born — Palmer redesigned the maps and integrated features like rider alerts, where trolley riders can send a text message to an address alerting fellow riders of delays, whether explained or unexplained. He’s also integrated Google map features that allow riders to “see” what a trolley station actually looks like on the street level, and other maps that users can zoom in and out on.
He said he’s not spoken with anyone at MTS, and the site bears a “not affiliated with the Metropolitan Transit System” disclaimer. Palmer’s understanding of the mission of graphic design is allow people an experience that is easy to use and quick enough to allow them to move on with their other tasks.
“I would be thrilled if MTS copied [the site] wholesale without even asking me,” he said. “OK, maybe I’d be a little perturbed. But the ridership would be better served.”
Palmer said he hopes the system in general will become more popular and comprehensive.
“I think it’s becoming wider used as a function of more people moving downtown,” he said. “It’s not happening because MTS is willing it so; I think the trolley’s becoming wider used because people don’t want to drive.”