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BART Ticket Machine UI November 11, 2007

Posted by Andre Vellino in User Interface.

I have almost nothing but praise for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system – which I used to get from SF Airport to Fremont a last week. Like all great cities, at its heart lies a good public transit system.

But I did notice something wrong: the user-interface for the ticketing system. It’s instructive to understand why it’s a problem.

BART works a bit like the Paris Meto: you enter the train system through turnstiles that read your mag-stripe ticket and you exit the system by placing the same ticket into another mag-stripe reader. The mag-stripe has a cash-credit and the fare for the distance between the start and destination is deducted from the credit on the ticket. The ticket can then be re-used for another fare up to the value of the credit.

To buy a such a multi-use ticket, you first have to figure out how much your fare is going to cost by looking it up on a table of destinations (for one-way and return fares) posted on the ticket machine. Then, you put some money into the machine via a paper money reader or coin-deposit system.

Now, and here is where the UI is seriously broken – to get the ticket for the value of the fare you want, you, the user, have to SUBTRACT from the amount you entered the number of dollars and cents required to get the exact fare for your ticket. In other words you have to tell the machine how much you want back in change.

Now, you can see why someone might want the machine to work that way. It’s pretty easy to increase fares – you just need to update the fee-posters and let the users figure out what change they need. Also, which machine is in which location doesn’t matter to the vending machine – all machines locations are interchangable.

In a system that’s designed for the user – one in which you select your destination and where the machine computes your fair and gives you the exact change – every fare change or machine replacement requires more maintenance, more software and, presumably, results in greater costs for the transit authority.

I found it ironic that this anti-user ticketing system should be found in the land that invented the iPod.


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