Tuesday, 26 July 2011

3 ways public transport Ticket Machines fail in Milan

The story
This morning I needed a public transport ticket.
I had to make the choice whether to buy it at the Ticket Machine (10 people queue) or at the box office (25 people queue).
Obviously I went for the shortest queue.

What a bad choice!
I was still waiting in line when the box office did the last of the 25 queuing people and even after he did many more. "How comes? - I thought - Are people so stupid not to be able to use a Ticket Machine?"
I could not believe it!

But then, as always, "we blame ourselves when in fact it is an interface problem" (as D. Norman teaches). And with "interface" here I mean the whole Ticket Machine experience, not just the digital interface.

The facts
It turns out, in fact, that Ticket Machines aren't built for efficiency and user friendliness in many aspects:

1. Screen interface
The screen you're presented with is a clutter of boxes.
Every box has a label many of which no-one would ever utter to buy a ticket, so most of the people would get stuck in front of it.

I was in Sesto San Giovanni, a stop where people usually buy two tickets:
- "a ticket to Milan" (1.60€)
- "a ticket until Loreto" (1.25€)

Why having them presented with so many choices if the vast majority of people would buy one of those 2 tickets and of the rest many would recharge their pass card (which is quite automatic)? Wouldn't it be much better to have an interface where the most popular tickets in any stop are highlighted and upfront?

The interface might be a bit more complex to upgrade (by the way, are they updated in a centralized way indeed?), yet it would spare much frustration.
More than worth it, I'd say!

2. Ticket emission
Tickets are printed brand-new every time.
Given the data I told you before, wouldn't it be much better if those machines already had inside a fair amount of those 2 kinds of ticket? It would spare much time to people queuing and the machines could still be able to print tickets out in case the storage runs out.
(Moreover it would not affect costs: the same guy that today changes the paper roll would take care of refilling tickets.)

3. Possible change given
Any Ticket Machine can give a max change of 9.95€.
9.95€ is perfectly fine when you're going to purchase spare tickets, yet ridiculous when you're purchasing an 86€ pass (as I did for 2 years). In that case you must have exactly 90€ to buy it. 100€ (2x50€ - more common to have than 90€) would not be ok and you would have to beg for change.

The end
It takes sooo little at times to improve people's lives. Why shouldn't we try?
Moreover happy customers always spread the word. ;)


  1. Thinking to this post I kept my 10-trips ticket used in Barcelona, as another example of UX:
    the ticket had a count-down for remaining courses... using ATM-MI you have to count manually the trips.
    In Barcellona ones, moreover, after the last trip a string tells you that the ticket won't be valid for more trips.

  2. Well done!
    This Spanish ticket seems really user friendly, remember to bring it with you next time we meet and we'll write a post on it as well. :)