Want to give WMATA some feedback about your experience with Metrorail, Metrobus, or MetroAccess? Amplify, the agency’s new “customer community” that launched Monday, might help you (and 4,999 others) with that.

Image from WMATA.

Amplify is designed to solicit feedback from a subset of rail, bus, and paratransit users, the goal being to gather information and ideas to help “shape the direction of Metro.” WMATA is looking for 5,000 riders who fit specific demographics and use the system or are “transit professionals.” These select few will be allowed to sign up and contribute in the first phase of the program.

Amplify has a big job ahead of it

WMATA’s Customer Research department hopes Amplify will “become a valuable tool in building the relationship between Metro and our customers.” More specifically, WMATA wants to use Amplify to bounce ideas off of riders and get their feedback on various current and proposed topics.

Amplify will be made up of 5,000 people; WMATA’s goal is 2300 bus, 2300 rail, and 200 Access regular riders, plus 200 various transit professionals.

One possible application for Amplify: when Metro was evaluatingthe proposed service cut to benefit Blue Line riders earlier this year, theproposal went through the Riders’ Advisory Council first, then was pitched to the WMATA Board of Directors, then ultimately, itappears, was discarded. In a case like this, WMATA could could solicit the feedback Amplify’s 5,000 participants to gauge their reaction instead of (or in addition to) the RAC. Depending on the input feedback stage, Metro could have had a better idea earlier onof how the proposal would go over with a larger audience of riders.

Things aren’t that far along, with WMATA only having sent Amplify members an initial poll to get their demographic info and another asking about day-to-day experiences. But based on initial reactions to the new program, Amplify’s work is quite likely cut out for it.

When asked how much riders think WMATA cares about their day-to-day experience, under 15% said “a great deal” or “quite a bit”, whereas the vast majority of participants went with “somewhat” or “very little.” Around 15% of other voters chose “not at all.” It is unclear how many of the program’s 5,000 participants have taken the poll, but the general mindset of those already allowed in seems pretty clear.

Amplify won’t be the one-stop shop for Metro discussions

Both in Monday’s press release and earlier in a presentation to the RAC, WMATA noted that Amplify is not meant to eliminate or replace their other methods of obtaining feedback. WMATA currently uses phone and web-based surveys in addition to other tools, which will continue to be used.

Amplify is also not a replacement for receiving individualized customer service feedback from WMATA on social media or elsewhere. Twitter may not always deliver targeted, actionable information the agency wants, but it’s still a good medium for riders to share thoughts and experiences.

WMATA described Amplify’s pros and cons in a presentation with RAC:

Image from WMATA.

Amplify won’t grant instant gratification

By the very nature of the structured collection of data that the program will use (surveys, polls, and tools that have defined answers), it is not going to be an instant cure to solving WMATA’s communication woes or service disruptions. It may help gather data from riders more quickly, but like any dataset requires proper analysis. Hopefully the platform is put to good use, specific questions, surveys, polls, and forums are created on it to collect feedback, and hopefully that’s all analyzed.

In addition, the wording of the press release makes it sound like more riders will be able to participate in the future. The 5,000 let in on Monday are in the “first phase” of Amplify, insinuating there will be a second and larger phase. This would ultimately be useful since as 5,000 people is under 1% of Metrorail’s daily ridership and may or may not be representative of the larger pool. However, we don’t know when a second or future phase would be.

The most important thing Amplify can do is communicate back with its participants. Taking in data for use by the agency from a reasonably-sized group of actual riders is fantastic, but doing something with that data is key, and showing that the agency is using the data is what makes everything work.

 

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Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.