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Improving the PT user experience

Public transport systems in cities all around the world comes in many different shapes and sizes. However there seems to be one thing universal to them all, the locals who use them daily always think they can be better. There are systems in some cities that we would dream to have in Auckland but it doesn’t make them perfect. One of the great things about the Internet is it lets people share their ideas for improvement. In New York one designer is trying to improve things with some suggestions. Here is a description of what he is doing.

For the next 100 Days, I will propose various improvements to the New York City Subway, which in 2012 had 1.6 billion riders, and should be seen as the best subway in the country, if not the world. I’ll be exploring various ideas, from UX, Environmental, Co-Branding, Audio/Visual, and more, including potential interviews with MTA employees, all in an attempt to create discussion.

As you would expect not all of his ideas would apply to Auckland and positively a number of them have, or are being addressed already as part of electrification. He is currently up to #60 so I thought I would share my  favourites so far.

This one probably doesn’t need too much explanation (although not that many stations actually have toilets – which they should have).

14. Bathroom Door Opener
So opening a bathroom door has always been a gross thing. It’s even worse in the current station bathrooms…why not just use a pedal system that can be connected to the door’s internal mechanism, to pop the door open when you’re done?

It would be nice just to have set dwell times

24. Subway Timers
One of the biggest problems the subway has are people attempting to squeeze into the car as the doors are closing. This is attributed to a number of reasons, one of them being that the riders don’t know how much time is left before the doors close, which cause them to hurry to a train, endangering themselves, fellow riders, and potentially causing time delays on the entire system.

Timers located near the doors could help alleviate this problem. Start them at 30 seconds, and countdown. At zero, doors close. This way, if someone sees the train with 5 seconds left, and they’re 20 seconds away, they’ll second guess about trying to run for the doors.

I would find this one more useful than the real time system we have now

25. Train Positions
“Ahh crap, I just missed the R train…where’s the next one? Oh, 28th street! Awesome!”

This would be far more useful than the pitiful excuse we call passenger displays currently

30. Info Panels
It’d be great to have panels streaming live data about the system and the city. Seeing the weather outside can help me prepare accordingly, seeing a live feed of the tunnels will let me know if I’ll deal with any delays, and some live entertainment can either show off local television, or display info about local businesses to help break the monotony of the trip.

We are starting to see some of these pop up but could do with more

36. Neighborhood Guides
What kind of things are in a neighborhood? Where are they? Interactive kiosks in tourist heavy areas could answer these questions, and display helpful videos about important New York landmarks, like the World Trade Center. Users could use the interactive map to find restaurants & other local businesses. A camera attached to each kiosk helps dissuade vandalism.

This one may take a bit of work but would certainly be useful during the peak periods. Of course our new trains also allow access between the carriages which should help with spreading the load.

38. Car density
It’s a real pain when you’re standing on the platform, and the car you always get on is full. So then you have to run to the next car, not knowing if it’s going to be full or not. And sometimes, you miss the train, causing even more tension & anger.

Live tracking, based on the weight of the cars, could determine this info. When you get to the platform, you can check the screen, and figure out where to stand. This results in better distribution of riders.

We have been told we are getting wifi on our new electric trains so I have left that off but this one could be useful, nothing worse than using your phone/tablet to kill some time in the process draining the battery.

47. USB Power
With newer trains, the subway will utilize the kinetic energy created by braking. USB power stations could borrow some of this energy, so that riders with low batteries can charge up for 50 cents, all by tapping your RFID Metrocard.

Another little thing that would help with directions for new users

58. System Diagrams on Platforms
Inspired by the subways in Barcalona, there should be a revised system in how the subway diagram is shown. Make it big, make it obvious. This way, travelers know where they’re going.

Those are some of my favourites, any others you think would be appropriate. Also what suggestions would you make for Auckland?

25 comments to Improving the PT user experience

  • Noodle

    Really like the countdown clocks on the trains.

    • So do I. It would be much like what we have on pedestrian crossings on Queen St which I find wonderful.

      • George D

        I think they’d worsen the problem with jumpers, not increase it.

        My solution is to have them count down, perhaps from 30 or so. But then with 5 or so seconds to go they’d stop counting and display only flashing exclamation marks, or X’s or something similar. This would make clear that while the train hadn’t pulled away, you were no longer safe to enter.

  • Great post Matt! The devil is in the detail. Auckland can, with effort, have a great efficient and appealing system, and these kinds of user interface details are important ways to get there. We all deserve it.

  • obi

    I like platform edge doors on underground stations. Busy stations can have congested platforms at rush hour and it is nice to know that you’re not going to spill on to the track if you bump in to someone. Also, people can cluster by the doors and speed up the embarkation process.

    • I think we will need platform screen doors on the CRL stations, particularly at Britomart 1 and 5. I think they are underestimating the passenger flows at each station and are going to get stung with crowding. Britomart’s outer platforms get crowded handing eight or ten small trains an hour. What happens when the same space needs to support twenty six car EMUs and hour?

    • The CRL stations are being designed to allow for platform screen doors and I have been told that it is a fairly simple upgrade to enable the EMUs to have automatic operation so they stop in exactly the right place. Even without screen doors I think there is a big advantage to ensuring trains stop in the same place and that markings are on the platform to line up with the doors for speeding up the boarding process.

      • Gary Young

        Slightly off-topic but does anyone know why one of Britomart’s platforms actually does have a glass barrier all the way along it? It’s not unsightly but doesn’t it prevent the use of one platform for no obvious reason?

        • Because that side is not a platform. Platform 3 is double-sized with long-distance services (suitcases etc) in mind. While we only have one departing every second day, I’m sure it won’t always be that sparse.
          The next track behind that glass wall is served by Platform 4.

  • Greg N

    How about adding the FIND displays (Flexible Information & Notice Display) they have on the newer NYC Subway cars.

    This link has some info about them: http://kellynford.com/2009/10/23/the-find-display-on-the-mtas-new-r160-trains-simply-brilliant/
    You can see a photo of one in close up: http://www.subwaynut.com/rollingstock/r160/r160int1.jpg

    Display provides a clever way to show where you are (next/current stop), plus next 9 stops,so you know how far away you are from your destination, also shows stations where you can interchange to other lines. and what those lines are (the Green letters below the station names are the Subway line “numbers” for other subway lines that also use that station which you can interchange onto).

    And because it all electronic, it any train could be redeployed onto any line/service without needing to to do anything – the system knows and displays the information for the current journey.

    I was in NYC in 2011 and used it to go from TriBeCA to JFK airport and the display kept me informed of where I was and how long before I had to get off the train during the whole trip.

    in the Auckland context, the interchange info could show bus routes for stations with intersecting bus services rather than interchange train stations of which there would be few..

  • Anthony McBride

    -Chimes
    they would be handy for whenever a train is about 30 seconds away. Have a different one for each line. ^-^
    (Japan’s Chimes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RgI5x6fStY

    -Vending Machines
    Proper for whoever is late for work…..Not just the usual soft drinks and chocolates…..

    -Pictures of cats
    That would be great to brighten everyone’s day. :D

  • Really like the idea of neighbour hood guides. For example at Grafton are told on board that this is the hospital stop. But no maps or signs to actually point how to get their. Same with the Domain and Museum. With some stations being hidden away people might realise they can use rail for more destinations.
    Also bus network maps required too, especially with frequent network revolving around network of interchanges.

    • Sailor Boy

      This is my big thing.

      I think that we need a metro style map of the rail and FSN networks at every stop, and on every platform.
      1 for the whole network,
      1 for the network accessing that stop

      As well as a map showing all of the routes from that stop/ station in true geographic form.

      Increase legibility acquire currency.

    • Mike

      Good point – the original suggestion was about how to get from the station to places (at the end of the trip), but at least as important is how to get from places to the station (at the beginning of the trip). All stations should be signposted from at least the nearest main roads/points of interest, if not having RTI information available (as Wellington’s ASB sports centre does for the nearest bus stops, with a blue line painted along the footpath to mark the route, making wayfinding simple).

    • Christopher T

      I’ve noticed some neighbourhood maps at Auckland train stations in the past but I suspect they’ve been removed to allow room for posters signalling the fortnightly weekend network closures. Unfortunately AT hasn’t demonstrated much interest in understanding the way users perceive the way it runs Auckland trains; it still operates as if it’s running a small town commuter network, albeit slightly improved from a few years ago. Weekend hourly services on the western line, when the network isn’t shut down; what a joke. We can huff and puff and suggest all sort of marvellous improvements, big and small, but in the end they’re ignored as AT moves inexorably on in its own, self-fulfilling, way. The FIND displays are pretty cool though.

  • I’d like to see simpler route numbering. Taking a cue from the New York subway system, why not have all our RTN and FTN routes as a single letter or number?

    • Nick R

      AT are doing that, all the routes are being renumbered and the FTNs get simple two digit numbers (there are too many to give them a single number or letter). Check out the AT website for the southern consultation for some examples.

      • 28 RTN routes (if I counted them correctly), labelled using single letters and numbers (0-9 and C-Z except I, reserving A and B for split routes) gives 33 options, however I’ve since realsied that doesn’t allow much futureproofing.

        • Sailor Boy

          Given that there are meant to be around 40 FSN routes by 2022, no not a lot of future proofing.

          Very glad that they are doing double digits for the FSN routed, that was probably the most important thing in my mind to mentally seperate them from ADN roues.

  • pete g

    On a signage theme, it would be good to get some national branding for rail stations. Petone in Wellington has a steam loco as the icon for the station for instance, it seems it would be good to get some kind of nationwide goings on – like the bus stop signs for no parking

  • jjay

    Sometimes I think it’s not the new design innovations that make the difference but dealing with the practical implementations
    of what on paper seem like great design ideas. PT users often just get frustrated by the little things that don’t work consistently
    or properly that happen day after day – copeable once off but enough to drive you batty day in and day out.
    Often things are designed or decided on by people who don’t use PT or at the least don’t use the particular PT service
    that is being affected by their design – so sometimes designs lack the insight into those little day to day issues that
    turn out to be a big deal.
    I think with all the changes we seem to be about to face with Auckland in the near future PT wise what we need is a very proactive public consultation – not just public submissions to the proposals but an interactive PT user panel where AT can get feedback from users
    on how their changes are actually playing out in the real world. A way to keep them aware of the frustrations on the ground so they
    can proactively deal with them. This user panel would have to encompass all types of users – all areas, older, younger, single married, parents,
    those with special requirements for PT etc. And of course it would be making the assumptions that there were resources there
    to fix the issues that came to light – often I wonder if there is money there for the initial changes but limited money for the
    follow up work to iron out the practical issues these changes can bring.
    Otherwise longterm little frustrations can build up and people vote with their feet …………

  • Things that I have seen actually in use.

    #25 Train position. I have also seen time to next subway train given, starting when the current train opens its doors. This can encourage people to wait for the next one rather than running. Any kind of real time info helps riders.

    #30 Info panels. I have seen more on intercity trains than on subways, but they work on both. I have also seen them on buses where they work, but not as well as on trains.

    #36 Neighborhood Guides. These seem to be common in most countries. I have seen them in South Korea, France, Spain, Japan, Taiwan, and Great Britain. I love seeing what people think is most important in their neighborhood. The only country that I have been to where they are rare is the US. I am shocked that New Zealand stations don’t have them.

    #47 Power Charging of various kinds (not just USB). More common in stations in Japan and South Korea, but does exist on mid-level trains in South Korea. Often paired with rentable computers.

    #56 System Diagrams. Not just found in Spain. These are also common in South Korea and exist in some stations in Japan. I agree that they need to be big. The one in the picture is smaller than the ones I have seen in real life which are would take up that entire wall and are often in 3-D.

  • Nick Hayes

    Hi Matt. This post really resonates with me as I’m currently doing my Masters of Industrial Design at AUT on the topic of improving the user experience for AT’s new network! I’m on the blog daily but only just registered… I’ve been in regular contact with Kent Lundberg, Anthony Cross and Rob Mayo but it’d be great to get your thoughts and expertise to help inform my project. Cheers!

  • David O

    Here’s an idea.

    Update the timetables on bus stops on New North Road. The routes only changed like, what, six months ago? The printed timetables on Symonds St stops STILL don’t reflect that change, at least not last time I looked. This is trivially simple stuff.

    Never mind late 20th century stuff like countdown timers on train doors (as if), just actually up to date mid-century information on the service currently offered (and not 6 month old information) would be progress indeed.

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