There are several websites that I frequent at least once a week for entertainment value (thank you, Zero Punctuation), but there are also several sites that I visit purely for information on a once-a-week-or-more basis.  Because I live in DC, one of those sites is definitely the official Metro page.

The website began in 1996, and according to the site, receives over 16 million page views a month.  Users can use the site to plan their public transportation trips, read up on emergency alerts, and find out about discount programs and payment plans.  Yet, as useful as it was, the site was in need of a major overhaul.  Thankfully, as of December 8, my lamentations were heard, and I'm happy to say that I am quite pleased with the result.  My favorite parts of the updated site, as well as some screenshots, are after the jump.

It's prettier.  The old site had a horrible color scheme of varying shades of dull orange.  This one is silver, blue, and black, which is much easier to read.  It's also subtly clever; the colors of the updated site correspond to the new colors submitted for the eventual colors of the rail's seat covers (click on the thumbnail for a larger view).

It's easier to read.  The font was unbearably small on the Trip Planner screens.  Normally, I would copy-and-paste the information into Word to increase the font before printing it out, instead of directly printing from the site.  Now, the most necessary and useful information is big and bold, perfect for Grandma's trips to the Smithsonian.

It's easier to navigate.  I'm a big fan of the classic "top-down menu" format, especially when the categories are this well defined and simple.  They champion this reorganization in the official announcement of the redesign, and I have to agree with them that it is far superior to what they had before.

It has better mobile capabilities.  If you have a WAP-enabled cell phone or mobile device, you're in luck.  The site contains detailed instructions on using the site to look up the next coming Metro.  However, for iPhone users, Justin Thorpe finds Meenster to be more useful.  Either way, it's never fun to arrive at the station when another train isn't coming for 20 minutes, and now you can limit that frustration.

It has other great, small additions.  One of my favorite ‘little' perks to the site is that in the Trip Planner you can now select between planning a trip that is "arriving by" or "leaving at" the time you input whereas before it only had the "leaving at" option.  It's the small, but useful updates like this that helps make this site worthwhile to its 16 million monthly viewers.

This update comes at an important time for the Metro system.  Starting January 4th, only SmarTrip cards will be serviceable (no more paper transfers!).  Not only that, but apparently someone big-time is getting a new job starting January 20th, and the Metro system is making huge plans to handle the attending crowd.

Well played, Metro, well played.