Home Charlie can't get on the T

Charlie can't get on the T

In Boston we recently got a new way to pay for the metro (called the T around here). Previously you would either use cash or buy a token. The previous system was really simple. Buy a token for a set fare, if you don't have a token you can pay in cash at above ground stations.

There were three visible problems with the old system:

  • The train cars didn't accept bills easily
  • The token machines didn't accept credit cards
  • Many above ground stations didn't accept tokens forcing people to use quarters and slowing down the whole process.

The Charlie Card hoped to address some of these problems without creating new ones. Unfortunatly things didn't work out that way.

The new system has created many new problems both in the physical design as well as the touchscreen interface.

  • Previously if you had a token you would put the token in and move on. The token is round and it doesn't matter what way you drop it in. This has been replaced with a ticket. If you insert the ticket you have a 3 in 4 chance of inserting it the wrong way. Yes, it has an arrow but people still make this mistake.
  • If you're a frequent T rider you can get an RFID pass that helps solve the above issue. Only problem is you can't buy these cards at the T stops and you can't refill them at many stops either. This means that you still have to use cash...
  • The new metro cars now accept dollar bills. Using an automated bill rejector. In the original design there was a 2-inch hole, you would crumple up your bill and shove it in the hole. The metro driver would visually verify your fair. It wasn't pretty but it did work. The new system allows you to hold up the whole line as you try to straighten your bill to feed it into the machine.
  • You can still use coins but they managed to screw this up as well. Previously the coin tray was a small concave bowl, this allowed you to drop your coins and they would funnel down. The new design is a convex dome so you have to put each quarter in one at a time.
  • The design of the touch screen system that actually dispenses tickets has enough design flaws to fill a book (or a nice newspaper column) The placment of buttons, the order and flow of pages the use of color and text violates many established principals of design. Many of the stations now have a dedicated person to help people work through the poor UI. Compare this to the elegant design of the New York metro touch screen and it's night and day.

There are a lot of people in the Boston community who are skilled in Usability and Human Factors. I had even sent an email to the MBTA volunteering to help them re-design the system and my offer fell on deaf ears. If anyone from the MBTA is listening my offer still stands.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.