Friday 27 April 2012

New Nexus Ticket Machines


I’ve been using the Tyne & Wear Metro system since I was a little nipper, when a ticket used to cost ten pence. In that time the ticket machines have remained largely unchanged. You pressed a button and you paid your money - simple.

However in the twenty five years that that machines have been in operation the fare prices have seen a lot of change. Where a typical adult fare once used to cost about one or two pounds, fares can now be as much as five pounds for a day saver ticket. The old machines didn’t accept notes and finding change of a note at six thirty in the morning at a station in the middle of nowhere is always a challenge.

It’s not just the fares that have changed in that time, so has technology. By today’s standards the old machines enforced a very low tech solution of coin and ticket. No smart cards, no paying with debit cards or phones and there was no chance of upgrading the machines because the company that serviced the machines either went out of business or stopped supporting them. (There was as a pdf report of the need for modernisation of the Metro system that supported this statement, but I’m at a loss to locate it on the current nexus website)

There was no avoiding the solution — the machines needed replacing. The new replacement machines accept coin, cards, notes and soon the all new pop card which finally means we should be able to top up travel cards online without having to cue in a nexus travel shop.

However for me, this is where the joy ends and the tale of an ill informed design process begins.

Meeting The New Machines

It’s six fifty two a.m. on a Saturday morning, I’m with Jo and we’re about to get a Metro (from Kingston Park) to Central Station to catch a train to York for the day. We’re running to the platform because, in the distance, I can hear a train approaching. I know I’ve got time to get the two tickets because I’ve bought tickets a thousand times before. Push a button insert the money and get a ticket. If you’re a seasoned pro then you can use two machines at the same time. Leaving us plenty of time so spare to get on the approaching Metro; or so I thought …

New Metro Ticket Machines

This is when I met the new machines. Our encounter was based around confusion and needless to say we missed the Metro. Not only because the new machines were a mystery to me but they also featured (probably) the worlds most temperamental touch screen interface.

I only wished I could have recorded my first encounter with the machine, but I didn’t. However because we’d missed the Metro due to the new machines being so ludicrously hard to fathom, I found myself with some spare time. So I repeated the process and recorded a little video. The music seemed only fitting …

Compare the experience from above to the experience of the old machines that required as little as one push before you paid. The old machines were really fast. –

  1. Ticket type
  2. Pay

Let’s break down the steps involved in buying tickets from the new machines –

  1. Touch to begin
  2. Choose destination
  3. Ticket type
  4. Quantity & add more
  5. Pay

This should take 7 taps, but in the video above it took me 24 taps because the touch screen was very flaky. Compared to the old machines this is very excessive.

The first screen doesn’t need to exist because it’s just visual cruft. The default screen could quite easily be the choose ticket screen.

On first glance it would appear to be reasonable to have the choose destination screen before the choose ticket screen, but it’s not. You only need to know where someone is going if they’re not buying a day saver ticket. This is because day saver tickets give you access to everywhere. It would therefore make more sense to have the choose destination screen after the user has chosen their ticket type.

Another bone that I have to pick with the choose destination screen is the cryptic choice of translating your destination into a choice of A + B + C. Making a human do this on the fly is crazy, can’t we just pick from a list of stations? We already understand the names of stations and we don’t have to think to convert our destination to a cryptic puzzle.

The choose more tickets screen is redundant screen. It would make more sense to assume a quantity of one for a ticket on the payment screen and provide an option to add more tickets if a person wanted to.

My Take

Ideally, I’d like to see buttons back on the machines because for six months out of the year Newcastle is cold. Unless you have conductive fingertips in your gloves you’re going to have to take off your gloves to use these machines. I realise however that the appearance of buttons on the new machines is even less likely that any of the feedback in this blog post being considered by Nexus. So it would only be fair to offer a suggestion of how I think it could be done better.

Firstly, a ticket machine has to be very quick to use because often you’re trying to get on the Metro that’s inevitably just about to leave and you don’t have time to spare. Secondly, a ticket machine should be immediately understandable and present only the choices that are required to buy a ticket. No decryption.

With that in mind here’s a mock up of an interface (best to save the link and open it in a pdf app) that I would prefer to use. It’s a clickable pdf file that I hammered together in inDesign & Acrobat. It’s ragged, but I’d prefer to use that because I can get to the payment screen much faster. In some cases within one tap.

What About You?

I’m interested to know what you’ve got to say about the new ticket machines so drop a comment and let me know.