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Sound Transit: Bringing Accessibility to Rail

In 2023, GoodMaps partnered with Sound Transit (rail operators in the Seattle metropolitan area) to commence a long-term project to provide real-time, turn-by-turn directions and up-to-date scheduling information for all passengers. Beth Hamby, Sound Transit’s Senior Accessibility Program Manager, called GoodMaps “one of several promising technology projects Sound Transit’s Innovation & Passenger Technology team is developing that are designed to assist passengers with wayfinding in and around our stations” and was “excited about the potential for GoodMaps to help make complex stations easier to navigate for […] any passenger with a smartphone.”

Following a successful preview of the system to interested parties in October (including representatives from Washington State’s Department of Services for the Blind), the pilot program – currently available at Sound Transit’s Westlake and International District/Chinatown stations (on the 1 Line) – was officially announced on December 15.

The goodMaps app displayed on a smartphone screen alongside a panoramic of a venue.

Inclusively Designed, Universally Helpful

While traditionally, the demographic with the most to benefit from GoodMaps’ multimodal app is the disabled community (those who are blind or low vision, deaf or hard of hearing, as well as wheelchair users), its implementation is not limited to any particular area or group, being as convenient to those with strollers or suitcases, as those with a variety of neurological conditions or simply in a rush. Sound Transit understood and embraced this universality and wanted to work with GoodMaps to expand the app’s functionality, convenience, and uses further still.

Thanks to Sound Transit’s collaboration and expertise, we’ve added some great new features to the GoodMaps transit experience, with more tweaks and additions to come.

– Charlie Meredith, Chief Technology Officer, GoodMaps

GoodMaps started the project by engaging with Sound Transit’s technical and customer experience teams to help gain a better understanding of the nuances of their passengers’ journey. Through this collaboration, our team sought to devise and develop an MVP (minimum viable product) with scheduling and alert features.

To help refine these features, GoodMaps’ UX (user experience) team conducted extensive testing sessions with a broad and diverse range of users. As Jennifer Palilonis, Human Factors Research and UX specialist at GoodMaps describes it: “GoodMaps takes a user-centered approach to design and development, which includes thorough usability and user experience testing with real members of our target audience. This approach allows us to iterate and improve upon our work rapidly and with real users in mind.” While specifically citing testing at Sound Transit, that “included a wide range of demographics, including blind users, wheelchair users, individuals who are neurodiverse, and more.”

These tests provided invaluable insights into how we could iterate on and improve the user experience within a transit environment, which paved the way for the polished final product.

Three sheets from the Station Information Sheet depicting a transit schedule, alert notification, and service alert.

How It’s Being Achieved

An efficient and safe rail station depends on clear and concise information, and the GoodMaps app enables Sound Transit to provide its passengers with all the information they require through a custom Station Information Sheet. Not only does it display integrated details from their Open Transit Data (OTD) feed [an extension of the GTFS format] – enabling real-time in-app notifications of delays, changes to schedule, and station closures – it can also help passengers find somewhere to sit, the toilets, or perhaps locate an eatery while waiting for their train.

As Alice Klein, from the Department of Services for the Blind, commented after her experience with the app, “I love the points of interest GoodMaps has built in, that are sometimes not taken into consideration. The information board is a perfect example.” This level of granularity enables the app to be endlessly malleable and holistically adaptive to the sometimes-unique requirements and suggestions put forward by venues of all varieties.

Looking Forward

The new features developed alongside Sound Transit are available in the GoodMaps app today, with further enhancements and other additions expected as we progress into the early part of 2024.

For more on the Sound Transit project, why not watch our instructional video, or for more details on how GoodMaps can work with a transit venue, visit the Transportation page of our website.

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Contact us or read more about how GoodMaps can enhance your venue today.