Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A great idea poorly executed

I have been taking the T the last few weeks and just saw the T's Charlie Card and Ticket validation machines for the first time. After staring at them and puzzling over them, I finally figured them out. But, before I share my hard-earned insight, a little examination.

Here's a validation machine. My first question: what in the name of Charlie is validation? Does it tell me my Charlie Card/Ticket balance? Why is using this machine going to deduct the fare? What is in it for me? Day after day I stare at this strange creature wondering how it fits into my commuting life. I even listened to the recorded message hoping that the spoken word would help me make a connection. It's new technology. I want to use it. But, I'm afraid of losing $1.70 just to learn what my card balance is after the deduction.

Today, I saw this not-as-helpful-as-it-could-be flyer on the outside of the Fare Array Hut. (Had I missed the flyer before? Did it just go up today? Who knew those little warming shelters had such a stupid fancy name?) So many words for a simple concept. Turns out validation is Charlie speak for get a use-the-back-door pass before you board. Transact the fare deduction before you board, join the monthly pass wavers, and avoid the bottleneck at the front door.

Except for the receipts added to the waste stream, it's a great idea. And, it deserves much better usability. Look again at the validation machine. There is absolutely no indication that the thing is going to spit out a receipt. There is no indication of the connection between validation and fare deduction and boarding.

Fortunately, it's an entirely soluble problem. Here's what the T needs to do. First, brand the receipts. Boarding Pass. Quick Pass. Backdoor Pass. Charlie Check. Anything. And lose any mention of "validation." Then, print and post very simple instructions on the entire process from the user's perspective, focusing on what's in it for the user.

  1. Pay at the station
  2. Grab a receipt
  3. Skip the fare box

Redo the welcome screen on the machines to make it clear that using them rewards you with a receipt. If there's any money, re-label the machines to indicate that the ticket-in slot is also a receipt-out slot. Oh, and fire whoever was responsible for rolling out this great feature with such incredibly poor usability, instructions, and branding.

But, really some simple posters would do the trick.


R. said...

These have been around for quite a while, although they only recently work for cards as well as tickets (I think).
They're not totally self-explanatory, but I was able to figure it out pretty quickly - which somehow makes me the go-to girl for the uninitiated who I often find looking quizzically at the thing.

Paul Levy said...

Hey, two years later, and I just came across this post and linked to it here: http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2011/02/infrastructure-chronicles-volume-4.html