“Innovations like these are possible because of the technical choices we’ve made, and those same choices will allow us to continue to innovate for our customers.”
Large and Complex Rail System
Metra is one of the largest and most complex commuter rail systems in North America, providing service to and from downtown Chicago with 241 stations over 11 routes, totaling nearly 500 route miles and approximately 1,200 miles of track. As the fourth busiest commuter rail system in the United States, Metra’s website receives over 36,000 visitors daily.
Metra’s mission to provide safe, reliable, efficient commuter rail service that enhances the economic and environmental health of Northeast Illinois was not reflected in its old website, which used a proprietary content management system (CMS) and was difficult for mobile users to navigate. To fulfill its mission, Metra knew that it needed an overhaul of its site to serve patron for years to come.
Metra sought to develop a new website that was responsive, visually engaging, intuitive, scalable, secure, self-administered and easier to maintain. It also needed to provide extremely up-to-date information regarding schedules, changes in those schedules, station conditions, ticket information and purchase options. Since Metra is ultimately accountable to its customers, it was important that its budget was spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.
Redesign, Re-platform and Integrate
Clarity was selected to redesign and re-platform Metra’s main site, Metrarail.com, using Drupal as the content management system (CMS). Clarity co-developed the site with Metra staff to ensure full and ongoing knowledge transfer.
The Metra website was developed to provide administrators a range of tools that allow them to directly add and update content. The site can also share user account information across systems. It uses a central identity server, so users can create one account and manage their personal email preferences, favorite routes and alerts, business information and recurring ticket orders across Metra’s website properties.
Clarity helped Metra take advantage of the re-platforming to introduce other improvements as well. The website was responsively designed using industry-standard frameworks so that customers using devices with varying screen sizes can functionally interact with the website. User flows were improved for both first-time and repeat website visitors, so information is available when and where it’s intuitively expected.
The e-commerce portion of the site is a .NET application built with improvements such as reduced risk, higher performance, long-term scalability, and an improved user experience. It is hosted on Amazon Web Services with multiple environments and follows the design cues of Metrarail.com so that the user has a seamless experience.
What would have ordinarily been a nine-month project needed to be compressed into six months, which Clarity Partners successfully accomplished.
Responsive and Visual Engagement
The new website provides a responsive, up-to-date and intuitive experience for end-users. Current alerts are prominently displayed on the home page, users can save their favorite routes for a personalized experience and, with real time updates provided every 30 seconds, users have access to timely information regarding the location of trains and their schedules. Additionally, Metra staff are now true owners of the site. While the old site shackled Metra staff to a platform and process they had little control over, the new site is fully under Metra’s control and more responsive to customer needs.
The launch of the new website at the end of June 2016 has been a success for both Metra customers and staff:
- One month after launch, staff had already made over 550 content changes to the site
- Pages viewed per session has increased steadily over the old site
- New sessions have jumped by 8%
Additionally, the site has demonstrated its stability under heavy load. The day of the Chicago Cubs World Series parade and rally, the site handled 15% more traffic than the heaviest traffic days from the previous two years, responding to three times the number of requests made during a normal rush hour.
The site is poised to serve Metra and its customers well into the future.