BART ticket machine user experience


I was at the San Francisco airport, confused, staring at a BART ticket machine. I was on my way to a User Experience conference. So it should come as no surprise that User Experience was top-of-mind (well, it’s always top-of-mind). It strikes me as tragic that one of the first User Experiences you’re likely to encounter upon arrival at a new destination is the purchase of some kind of public transportation ticket. Tragic because it could be a delightfully seamless transition to your final destination, and yet is so often poorly done. And the challenges are amplified by unfamiliar surroundings, commotion, baggage, fatigue, and time pressure.

The BART ticket machine User Experience was not horrible, but it did take a few mistakes to get over the initial hurdle of how to pay with a credit card, which is not clear on the little 123 diagram (but who reads diagrams anyway)? The diagram shows money going in as step one. Apparently the diagram is to be taken literally and does not refer broadly to any form of payment, but only cash. The credit card actually goes into a slot in 2. But look at the order of the functional areas of the machine. From right to left, 2 appears first. Why? This causes perceptual friction as you try to fit the elements into a coherent mental model. 1 and 3 are indicated by green and red shaded areas, respectively. 2 is indicated by a blue tape outline that looks like it was added as an afterthought, since there is a green shaded area for credit card swiping inside the blue outline.

Another challenge was that I had no idea what dollar-value ticket to purchase to travel from SFO to the Montgomery station near my hotel. And it was not clear how I might find that information. So, I bought a $20.00 ticket, figuring that should be more than enough. It was, though the cost one-way was a surprising (to me) $8.00, which left me more than enough to return to the airport a few days later. Still, I would have liked to have the information readily available.

This post would normally end here, except for a happy occurrence at the conference. During a break between sessions, a design student was presenting a model for an improved BART ticket-purchase process (above) that he and fellow classmates had developed. It actually addressed the two issues I mention above. It was fluid, intelligent, delightful, and intuitive to use. If only it could see the light of day (or dark of tunnel), but he says it’s a challenge getting through the BART bureaucracy. In any case, good job.

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