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MBTA’s new mobile site is ready for smartphones

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / November 21, 2011

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The MBTA plans to activate a new mobile website this morning intended to provide customers with more useful information, delivered in sleeker fashion.

The old mobile site was cutting-edge when it was introduced five years ago but is a clunker by current standards, a bland text page that lists schedules and service alerts in a format designed for the small screens of the first smartphones.

The site is formatted for larger touchscreens, with more features and a full-color design. It launches in lieu of the desktop version when a user visits on a mobile device.

It adds a real-time Google Maps trip planner, a service-alerts box color-coded by subway line and transit mode, and a customer comment form, meaning riders can now report overflowing trash bins, burned-out light bulbs, and buses that fail to show - or praise excellent service - as soon as they see it.

“What we’ve done here is really bring the mobile site up to date and make it more convenient,’’ said Gary S. Foster, chief technology officer for the MBTA, previewing the site for reporters on Friday. “It’s designed for the devices that are out there today.’’

Though the mobile site receives less traffic than its desktop sibling, its traffic has been growing about twice as fast, he said.

Meanwhile, the number of iPhone and Android users visiting the site has soared, while the number of BlackBerry visitors has declined. Of 500,634 mobile site visits last month, 8 percent were by BlackBerry, 31 percent were by iPhone, and 37 percent were by Android phones, according to the T.

The site also includes a showcase for about 40 free or low-cost applications - most aimed at telling riders when a bus or train is coming - that have been developed by independent programmers and entrepreneurs since the T began making raw data available two years ago.

“This could be a great tool for our customers in deciding on their transportation options on a daily basis,’’ said Jonathan R. Davis, the MBTA’s acting general manager.

The T paid $25,000 for the site, which was built by Usablenet, a firm that has designed mobile sites for Amtrak, British Airways, jetBlue, and others.

The site recognizes the type of phone or handheld device a user is wielding and presents a format optimized for its operating system, T officials said.

The customer comment form is inspired by Boston’s award-winning Citizens Connect application, which lets people snap pictures of problems and beam concerns to City Hall, while their phone’s GPS pinpoints the coordinates of the pothole or darkened streetlight.

That service will supplement the MBTA’s telephone customer hotline and the comment box on its desktop website. Unlike the city’s app, though, the public will not be able to see and track problems submitted by other riders or monitor their resolution.

Still, it will make problems easier for the T to identify and correct, while the overall site will help customers better navigate the system when they are out and about, state Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said.

“To roll this out now, particularly before winter, as another amenity for customers to get information to plan their trips is huge,’’ said Davey.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at