FILE PHOTO: ROBERT CORTES/THE HOYA WMATA’s Amplify website allows riders to communicate their concerns.
WMATA’s Amplify website allows riders to communicate their concerns.

The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority launched Amplify, a website aiming to give riders a greater voice in local public transit, Oct. 15.

Amplify will offer multiple channels through which riders can communicate with both WMATA and other riders, including online polls, surveys and discussion forums. Interested users can create Amplify accounts online. The ultimate goal is to include more customer input in WMATA policy decisions.
WMATA Director of Customer Research Jason Minser emphasized the creation of Amplify as a response to the call for increased communication with riders.

“We’re always looking for new and better ways to engage our customers,” Minser said.  “While we certainly do it now through a number of different channels, we didn’t have anything that would sustain interaction so that we were getting a constant stream of input.”

The site currently has a cap of 5,000 riders allowed to sign up for membership. However, if the initial launch is successful, WMATA will consider opening Amplify to all Metro and bus riders.

According to a Metro press release, WMATA hopes to receive feedback on service changes, marketing materials and overall customer experience. WMATA also plans to release a monthly newsletter for Amplify members to demonstrate how customer comments have affected transit policy decisions.

The call for input from the customer community comes after recent controversy surrounding WMATA’s operation. Earlier this month, the Washington D.C. Metro was the first subway system to be placed under federal jurisdiction due to a lack of safety regulations.

Additionally, dissatisfaction with WMATA inspired the formation of an independent Riders’ Union in September.

Amplify’s first poll respondents conveyed how much they feel WMATA cares about their daily interaction with the bus and rail system. Fifty percent of participants responded “very little” or “not at all” and only 15 percent chose “quite a bit” or “a great deal.”

WMATA Riders’ Union Communications Director Graham Jenkins highlighted Amplify as a possible sign of change in how WMATA handles complaints.

“I would hope that this is a way to channel those suggestions more constructively and turn them into specific policy platforms. The idea that they’re actually accepting criticism is a new thing,” Jenkins said.

“This seems to have room for legitimate criticism, so that’s a good sign.”

Lynn Bowersox, WMATA’s assistant general manager of customer service, communications and marketing, assured the organization’s confidence in the site.

“This tool gives customers the convenience of sharing their thoughts and opinions at times and in places that work for them, including on the go,” Bowersox said in a press release announcing Amplify. “We believe that Amplify will become a valuable tool in building the relationship between Metro and our customers.”

Mike Donnay (COL ’16) expressed doubt that the university student community will be able to provide the interest WMATA is seeking.

“As a college student who has very limited time in D.C., I’m not super invested in it getting better,” Donnay said. “There are certainly parts of it that frustrate me, but I don’t imagine that an app or website will suddenly inspire me to engage with the Public Transit Authority in any more meaningful way than I do.”

Suzanne Trivette (COL ’16), who uses the bus system for her job commute to DuPont, however, said she is hopeful that the service will be able to further connect riders with WMATA.

“I feel like that could be helpful, in terms of people making suggestions and feeling like the transportation system cares about them,” Trivette said.

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