Like many ITPers, I live in Brooklyn. Therefore, I have gotten to spend quite a lot of time riding the subway to and from school. There are few interactions as equalizing as riding the subway; the homeless and the very wealthy all have to buy the same card from the same machine, wander the same tunnels, wait for the same train, and sit or stand in a cramped car . With an estimated 5 million rides per day, the subway is as public as an interaction can be. It’s goal is to provide efficient mass transportation to as many people as possible, on time, to every major part of the city, in as simple a way as possible. And yet it’s very intimidating to visitors, and confusing still for residents.
I want to focus on the ticket machines. The only way to get on the subway is to buy a ticket, almost always from an automated machine. The machines will seemingly always be unoccupied whenever you already have a ticket, but backed up with customers when you’re in a rush. People struggle to find the right options within the menus – I want a new card, right? Do I just need a SingleRide? Why do all of these say “+1” on them? The credit card readers are often very problematic as well. There isn’t time to have to try your card 10 times when there is a growing line forming behind you. This is not completely the machines fault; it is still a struggle to understand why the US refuses to adopt the chip technology prevalent throughout the rest of the world. If a single ride is $2.50, why isn’t there an option to purchase based on number of rides, so that you don’t invariably end up with leftover money on your card? As an aside, looking into this led me to MetroChange, a fantastic idea where you can donate your leftover card change to charity.
So you finally end up deciding you need a $25 card. You spent a few minutes navigating the touch screens, which, for all our technological advancement, feel as antiquated as an automated phone system. Maybe you got your card to work, maybe you paid with cash because the reader was malfunctioning. You’re then dispensed a thin paper ticket. For a rare user, this may make sense. But for purchasing unlimited monthly passes, something a little more substantial would be nice. In my opinion, there should be an option for a more substantial plastic or composite card, less susceptible to wear and loss, offering more encouragement to be refilled. Your whole transaction probably took 3-4 minutes, which doesn’t sound long but can feel eternal with a lot of anxious travelers behind you. After your purchase is completed, you then enter the confusing tunnels to find your train – but that is a different discussion. Something as large and complex as the subway system will produce inherent difficulties and confusion. But simply getting a ticket to get into the subway should be an easier process. It may be simple to someone who has lived in the city for a while, but, more importantly, it needs to be equally as simple for a first-time user, a tourist.