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usability and mass transit (and a bug?)

Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30764
    
156

Every so often, I think about mass transit in different cities such as in does your bus take paper money. Today I was thinking about usability.

New York City does some things well. Of course, bad usability jumps out at you more. Which is why I'm thinking about that here. Listing out what really should be improved usability wise.

I think the last issue is actually a software bug. It used to work properly in that you got the transfer even if you card would be empty after. I think someone decided to "optimize" things by cleverly putting in a check for the balance changing or being non-zero.

I look at this list and am just amazed that New York City has taught us to accept so many things as being normal!

MTA

What would you change about mass transit in your city with respect to usability?

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My list
  • the subway map - tourists look at it like it's a puzzle because it's so overwhelming
  • the subway map's secret codes - you have to know certain symbols mean "the line terminates here" or "the line only runs on weekdays"
  • the alternate subway list - on weekends, alternate routes are listed due to construction. usually this is fine. Two years ago when a lot of construction was going on downtown, they would advise you to take other subways that weren't running.
  • farecard machines - we get a percentage as a bonus when buying flat fee rides - they've made it virtually impossible to buy an amount where you will break even and spend all the money on the card (you have to spend over $50 to make that happen.) Yet if you buy the card at a newstand, you can buy a card for $17.33 + bonus or whatever it is that makes you break even. Why can't the machines do that?
  • swiping the farecard - if you swipe too fast or too slow, you have to swipe again at the same machine. Not a big deal until you swipe a few times. Then you want to let others pass. But you can't. As soon as someone else swipes or you go to another swiping machine, they charge you an extra fare for flat fare. Or make you wait over 15 minutes for an unlimited card.
  • brittle farecards - if the fare card gets slighly bent, the chances of having this swiping the farecard problem go up exponentially. You pretty much have to live with it since the alternative is to start paying flat fares and mailing the card in to get a partial refund.
  • farecard refunds on unlimited cards - this "refund" isn't actual money. it's a certain amount of fare on a pay per ride card. Which is less useful than it sounds. Most people who use the unlimited card get one every month because they use a lot of rides. Greatly minimizing the opportunity to actually use the refund.
  • subway announcements - mmmmmmm stand clear of the closing doors. - What was that? How is it that the clearest part isn't the one time message?
  • misinformation - a couple summers ago our subway system flooded and no underground subways were running. Before I paid to take an above ground subway, I asked a transit worker if subways were running at the other end in Manhattan. They said yes. I got there and no subways were running at all - nor had they been all morning. The result was walking several miles. I could have stayed home had I known this.
  • the 'free outdoor transfer' - You get a free transfer from bus to subway in NYC along with unlimited transfers once you are in the subway. There is one station I know of in Manhattan that offers a free transfer if you walk outside. At least it's free if you only take the subway. If you take the bus - surprise, it's a $2.25 "free" transfer.
  • the last transfer on a farecard - This is the one that prompted me to post this. Normally, you get a free transfer from the bus to the subway provided it is within two hours. Except when you don't. There seems to be a recent problem with this that is completely illogical. The transit authority claims you don't get the free transfer if your card has a zero balance left. This used to work. I've successfully gotten a transfer literally hundreds of times - virtually all of which were over 5 years ago. I tried twice within the past year. Once the last fare was transferring to a bus. The card said no transfer, but the driver was nice and let me get on anyway. The other time was transferring to a subway. The attendant made me pay again. I filled out the "fare complaint letter" and mailed it in. They wrote back explaining I was not entitled to the $2 (at the time) refund because my metrocard said it had $0 left both before and after I attempted to use the transfer. Yeah. That's the point. I wrote back again and they gave me the $2. Needless to say this was about the principle of the matter - you're supposed to get a transfer. Today, I was on line to speak to the attendant and the person in front of me had the same problem. The attendant "explained" that you aren't entitled to a free transfer if that is the last thing left on the card. That's not what their website says! She further "explained" that she would let the person through this time because they didn't know, but next time are expected to know.


  • [edited to add formatting and re-order post now that I see how long it is]


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    Dipanjan Kailthya
    Greenhorn

    Joined: Jul 04, 2009
    Posts: 20
    I live in Tokyo and have to say that the mass transit is sweet! I do wish they'd run 24/7 though (it shuts down around 12 midnight and comes back up between 4 A.M. to 5 A.M.).
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    author & internet detective
    Marshal

    Joined: May 26, 2003
    Posts: 30764
        
    156

    Dipanjan Kailthya wrote:I live in Tokyo and have to say that the mass transit is sweet! I do wish they'd run 24/7 though (it shuts down around 12 midnight and comes back up between 4 A.M. to 5 A.M.).

    Washington DC shuts down at night to. Not that I've ever had occasion to take it during those hours. New York runs 24x7 although not all lines and it could be a good wait.
    Dipanjan Kailthya
    Greenhorn

    Joined: Jul 04, 2009
    Posts: 20
    On most weekends I stay out until 3 A.M. in the morning. It'd be safer if I didn't have to ride my bicycle half-drunk on my way back
    fred rosenberger
    lowercase baba
    Bartender

    Joined: Oct 02, 2003
    Posts: 11422
        
      16

    Dipanjan Kailthya wrote:It'd be safer if I didn't have to ride my bicycle half-drunk on my way back
    You don't. Just stop drinking, and you'll never ride your bike drunk again.

    problem solved.


    There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors
    Dipanjan Kailthya
    Greenhorn

    Joined: Jul 04, 2009
    Posts: 20
    Haha, true! I hadn't really thought about the problem from that angle
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    author & internet detective
    Marshal

    Joined: May 26, 2003
    Posts: 30764
        
    156

    fred rosenberger wrote:
    Dipanjan Kailthya wrote:It'd be safer if I didn't have to ride my bicycle half-drunk on my way back
    You don't. Just stop drinking, and you'll never ride your bike drunk again.

    problem solved.

    Or keep drinking until the trains start running again!
    Dipanjan Kailthya
    Greenhorn

    Joined: Jul 04, 2009
    Posts: 20
    In that case, I'll be too drunk to find the right train!

    But yeah, that's what a lot of people do. You should see the salarymen sleeping on the sidewalk with their leather briefcases as an improvised pillow...

    Jeanne Boyarsky
    author & internet detective
    Marshal

    Joined: May 26, 2003
    Posts: 30764
        
    156

    I read about an iPhone app called Exit Strategy NYC that tells you what car of the train to use for the fastest transfer and exit. Very cool! And good usability.
     
    I agree. Here's the link: http://aspose.com/file-tools
     
    subject: usability and mass transit (and a bug?)