Journal: News & Comment

Thursday, August 15, 2002
# 3:39:00 PM:

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The flaws in Vancouver's transit tickets

Ryan notes that Vancouver's transit ticketing system is rather a mess. It's only become worse since the company introduced new ticket machines and new tickets to go with them.

On buses, what used to be either:

  • a simple drop of change into the coin box, or
  • displaying a transfer with a clear expiry time

now involves either:

  • waiting for coins to be mechanically counted by an electronic coin acceptor, or
  • inserting a magnetically coded ticket into the machine and waiting for it to be validated.

Not only does that cause delays, it's confusing, because the tickets only go into the machine one way (with three possible wrong ways to insert them). Drivers routinely have to explain how the system works, even to people who use the system regularly but not often, like me. At SkyTrain and Seabus stations, the diagrams showing how the tickets fit into the validator machines don't even represent the tickets clearly, so it's still too easy to do it wrong. Even worse, the correct way puts the fine print (presumably the back of the ticket) on top, so it's upside down from any normal person's point of view.

The whole system seems designed to prevent people from trying to defraud the system by paying too little, but it's also removed the ability of real human beings, like bus drivers and passengers, to use their judgment to help make the system more efficient. Plus, no one at TransLink or the companies building the ticket machines seems to have done much usability testing -- how hard would it be to make a ticket that could be inserted all four possible ways (one end or the other, flipped over or not) and still be valid?


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