|Typical Kiosk User in Deep Contemplation|
The MTA ticketing kiosk is a metaphor for everything that can go wrong when institutions go digital. It violates just about every rule of user interface - from ease of use it asks for too much information, confuses the user and faulting them for errors) to punishing the user with a surcharge and threat of eviction from the train.
We can only hold our collective breaths and imagine how this would translate into City Mayoralty.
8 Steps to Missing Your Train with the MTA Ticket Machine
Institutions tend to deny design flaws and blame it on the consumer. You’ve probably heard about the MTA’s “tripping stair” in a Brooklyn subway. By being slightly higher than all the other stairs at the entrance this step caused people to fall all day long. The MTA ignored it until someone captured it on YouTube and they were forced to fix it out of embarrassment or potential lawsuits.
Then, when I returned from Grand Central Station, a technician who happened to be servicing one of the machines began laughing at me when he noticed my bumbling: “They ask too many questions, don’t they,” he said.
Step 1: So You Want to Buy a Ticket?
Step 2: Where Would You Like to Go?
Good question bout how would I know? Shouldn't it assume that I am most likely buying a ticket for the next train and then ask me to confirm? Instead, it offers to explain what constitutes Peak and Off-Peak. The print is small but OK, a small price to pay for help at your fingertips. But then they throw you a little slider: it tells you from the point of view of the arrival time at Grand Central and not from the departure time at your station. So, now you have to know the exact time of the next train's departure so you can do the math. If that means having to consult a schedule, then you'll quickly notice they are nowhere near this kiosk.
Screen 4: So Did You Want "None" (After All That!)?
Screen 5: Ready to Pay?
Screen 7: Enter what?
If you were able to read the small type in the header and went straight to the number pad you'd be doing fine. Still, you just might wonder what the keyboard is for? After all, it does occupy 2/3 of the screen. So what Zip code requires letters? That would British or Canadian postal codes! And yes, I checked with the MTA, they put the alphabet keyboard in there on the off chance of a visiting commuter, say a Briarcliffe Brit or a Croton Canuck.
Either way, the big question remains – is there a penalty because the interface is so bad or are they look for a way to increase on-train ticket purchases so they can fleece 'em with fat surcharge? Or is the MTA in the adult education business, fostering greater screen awareness with subtle brain teasers? Or, is this just an elaborate racket designed to get a payday from passengers? Are they trying to put conductors in harm's way, having to extract these penalties from exasperated passengers?