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July 13, 2007

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We have a new system being implemented in Atlanta as well. It is called the breeze card. Luckily, I get mine through my office so I never have to reload it, but my wife does not. You need to load it at a machine (you cannot do it online and not sure if that will ever be an option) and every time you enter and exit the station you need to tap the card. If you do not "tap it" on your way out the system thinks you are still on the train. In my opinion, this is causing a sort of gridlock on people exiting the stations because you have to dig your card out of your purse, wallet, pocket etc. I understand why they are doing it because the can better serve the masses by determining where people are not only getting on the trains, but getting off as well. It's sort of big brother-like, but my name or personal information is no where on the card so it's not like they can follow my travel patterns.....yet.

Thanks for the comment Paul. There seems to be a careful tradeoff between privacy and convenience for most electronic payment systems like these. Certainly electronic highway toll collection systems, which are very usable for consumers, raise concerns as to what businesses and governments are doing with personally identifiable driving records. --Joshua

The Charlie Card should work just like the SpeedPass where it deducts money from my Credit Card each month.

That way you'd never have to wonder if you have enough money on the card.

One other thing. I've got about 4 Charlie Tickets in my wallet and want to transfer the value to my Charlie Card.

How do I do that?

Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. I think SpeedPass is a great model for how the Charlie Card might work better. --Joshua

I cannot understand anyone who says the CharlieCard is difficult to figure out. It could not be any simpler. Anyone who says he/she finds the CharlieCard confusing probably has a lot of other 'issues' he/she is coping with.

Not a big deal. Every time I try to buy a Charlie Card at the Harvard Station, they don't have any. It's all a moot point if they don't make the cards available to the public. Oh wait. Maybe that's another flaw? :)

We have a similar RFID nightmare in Minneapolis - St. Paul, the "GoTo" card
of the local Metro Transit.

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~hause011/article/Bus_ride8.html - a usability assessment and list of news articles documenting the RFID card failure.

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~hause011/article/Bus_ride16.html - a reprinted Craig's List rant of woe trying to use the RFID card.

When I visited Phoenix on an Elderhostel tour a few years ago, the city buses had fare boxes that read credit or debit cards--a great idea. No need for passes, tickets, correct fare (often something awkward like $1.45), etc. I suggested it to RTD here (Denver Metro Area) but they said it would cost too much to implement. I use 10-ride ticket books as I live here, which work well (discounted now I've turned 65); but it's awkward for visitors.

When I grew up in Boston, the subway (MTA, then the "T") took subway tokens that then cost 20¢. Great, and simple. (they were just 15¢ in New York).
--Roger Williams, Boulder, Colorado.

When I visited Phoenix on an Elderhostel tour a few years ago, the city buses had fare boxes that read credit or debit cards--a great idea. No need for passes, tickets, correct fare (often something awkward like $1.45), etc. I suggested it to RTD here (Denver Metro Area) but they said it would cost too much to implement. I use 10-ride ticket books as I live here, which work well (discounted now I've turned 65); but it's awkward for visitors.

When I grew up in Boston, the subway (MTA, then the "T") took subway tokens that then cost 20¢. Great, and simple. (they were just 15¢ in New York).
--Roger Williams, Boulder, Colorado.

I'm so glad someone has pointed out the dreadful design of the Charlie Card system. I work in the Boston area and have been taking the T on and off for 10 years (coincidentally, I'm a user experience/usability specialist). It is clear that the implementers of the Charlie Card system did little or no field research and/or testing on this system before launch.

It is unintuitive for first time riders, and more tellingly, for perpetual novices as well. I've been an occasional T rider for 10 years and I STILL have trouble using the new Charlie System. I can't imagine what someone from out of town goes through.

Major problems:

1)The credit card swiper often requires multiple attempts because of misreads or "user error". I've heard users being told by the T-helpers (those employees who have been explicitly hired to stand around and help confused riders) "you swept your card too fast." That behvaior is no surprise as another common use case for card readers --- at gas stations ---- warns customers to "swip quickly" (or else?) Can't their readers mimic the existing behavior?

2) When purchasing a roundtrip fare, instead of selecting "one roundtrip fare," the Charlie Card requires that you enter in a dollar amount (even though 98% of all rides are the EXACT SAME amount) So I have to do the math in my head ($1.70 per ride x 2 = $3.40) and type in $3.40. It doesn't sound like a big deal but watching person after person pause to do the addition adds up to significant time being wasted daily by our transportation system. I'm sure the T thinks that people will just load up there cards and not worry about arithmetic, but that is not the common usage pattern for riders. Illogical as it may seem, many people are content to "pay as they go." This is a classic case of not understanding user behaviors.

3)The worst: I lied in #2. The T actually does charge two different rates. $1.70 if you have a Charlie Card (a little plastic card) and $2.00 if you are only paying one time only and don't want to buy a card. But NOWHERE in the system is this actually stated!! It's conveniently posted on a sheet of paper taped to the top of each console, which is the last place people look when focusing on the screens below. So if you miss the rate change and put $3.40 on your card, when you try to go home the card buzzes at you, the gates don't open, and there you are, swearing on your grandmothers grave to the T employee that you put enough money in while he/she has the "I've heard this about 50 times today" look on his face. Because as far as you know with the information that was made clear to you, you DID put in enough money. But you didn't.

Sidenote: The whole purpose for offering a plastic Charlie card is to reduce paper waste. More plastic, less ticket stubs lying on the floor. A good idea right? Unfortunately, at the end of each day, many T station floors are littered with paper anyway. Why? Because even when you use the Charlie Card and don't get a paper ticket, you are still given a paper receipt (which you cannot opt out of!) I can't believe the designers chose to do this.

And if you couldn't tell this system is pissing me off, it's getting under the skins of T employees too. I actually had a "helper" tell me, you have to be "smarter than the machine" as he left in a huff over my frustration of not being able to get the fare right.

Worst part, our taxes are paying for this brand new system!

Governor Patrick, please address this glaring issue.

Nice Post. I wrote about this same issue with the MBTA a few months back. I thought it may be interesting to you or your readers:
http://www.raizlabs.com/blog/?p=215

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