Wherever I go, I’m in a usability study: parking & transit payment machines

Whenever I use a payment machine for parking or a transit system, it’s like participating in a usability study.

Many of them are just hard to use, but I know it’s a complicated design problem. Why? Anyone can use them: natives and tourists; people who read well, don’t read well or don’t read the local language; new and experienced users, young and old, etc. And there may be a lot of tasks to include in the user interface.

Here are some examples of what I’ve seen

Boston’s multi-space parking meters
These new parking meters serve a number of parking spaces. Pay a fee, get a ticket, display it in the car. Simple, right? They work fine in the daytime but I struggled to read the instructions on a dark sidewalk. I saw a reference to “the green button”, but it was too dark to see color. And I could barely find where to insert the coins.

Boston's multi-space parking meter. Easy to use in the daytime, but impossible to read in the dark

Boston's multi-space parking meter serves multiple adjacent spaces. It's easy to use in the daytime, but impossible to read in the dark


Providence, RI, airport’s parking machine

One of the big problems with these systems is simply knowing where to start. That was the case here.

Parking lot payment machine -- Providence airport

Parking lot payment machine -- Providence airport

Parking machine at Mt Auburn Hospital (Cambridge, MA)
This worked pretty well. The steps are numbered (although not arranged in order) and it uses speech (do you remember DECtalk?). It started talking when I got close and guided me through the process well. It was loud enough for most people, but I don’t know if it uses other languages.

Parking garage machine, Mt Auburn Hospital, Cambridge MA

Parking garage machine, Mt Auburn Hospital, Cambridge MA

Washington, DC, metro (subway) payment system
This was very confusing. I didn’t know where to start. As in other cities, they have people available to help customers. Do you think that’s necessary, or could they make it easier?

Washington, DC, metro (subway) ticket machine

Washington, DC, metro (subway) ticket machine

New York City has multi-space parking meters like Boston’s
A friend sent this for my collection (thanks, John)

Parking meter, NYC

Multi-space parking meter, NYC

While we’re looking at NYC, here’s my favorite street sign
They came up with a great graphic to show why parking is prohibited.

No parking sign, New York City

Nice graphic on a no-parking sign in New York City

Family members know I’ll pull out a camera when I use one of these machines and they laugh. But I think it’s fascinating to see how different they all are, and to think about how much easier some of them could be.

Question: Have you seen machines like these? How easy were they to use? Did you feel like a usability study participant, too?

If you have any favorites images, email them to me and I’ll post them here.

About these ads

3 Responses to Wherever I go, I’m in a usability study: parking & transit payment machines

  1. Hal Shubin says:

    A friend made a great point. The green button on the Boston parking meter may be confusing for colorblind people who see green as gray.

    I ran the image through a Web site that simulates colorblind vision to test it.

    Not only did the green button look gray, but the red button did, too. That would make it VERY hard to use for colorblind drivers.

    See what the red and green buttons look like to someone with deuteranope (a form of red/green color deficit).

  2. http://www.tc.umn.edu/~hause011/article/Bus_ride42.html

    I have 40+ short articles on transit usability, they include the Washington DC Metro machines, Minneapolis Light Rail machines, and many other transit usability topics.

  3. […] It’s easier for a municipality to have central machines that dispense tickets for parking than to have individual meters. But they’re not always designed well. Here are two examples, one easier than the other. Neither takes credit cards, which complicates the UI in other machines. […]

Leave a reply. We'd love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers