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October 14, 2004 12:36 AM

Broken: London bus ticket kiosk

LondonbusticketmachineNancy Perlman writes:

In central London, you must have a ticket before you board the bus. The driver can not officially sell you a ticket. The goal: speed things up on the buses without conductors (most, these
days). So... ticket machines are installed at every bus stop, and they do not provide change.

The machine's instructions read, "select ticket first" and show an arrow pointing down. But
observation demonstrates that many people try to put a coin in the slot first.
Coin is spit out.
Person tries again.
Same experience.
Person misses bus or sympathetic driver accepts cash. Person may also lose coin and jam machine.

Why? People see the slot and reach for it - they don't read the instructions. It appears to be
the instinctual reaction to put in the coin, then select the ticket..

P.S. - this picture was taken with a not 100% usable Siemens S55 phone. Sticker with pig is not a feature of the ticket machine.


That's just like here in Calgary, AB with their transit. I just don't understand why they have it designed like this :S

Posted by: dj_sku at October 14, 2004 01:20 AM

To me, the hand picture in step 1 seems to point to the coin slot, and is inviting me to insert coin first.

Posted by: Heng-Cheong Leong at October 14, 2004 01:41 AM

The largest text on the whole machine says '1: Select ticket type first', with '2: Then insert EXACT money' in far smaller print, so it seems obvious the designers noticed a problem in testing, and tried to emphasise the correct procedure. There's nothing they can do for those so lazy as to ignore the instructions altogether; personally, I have little sympathy for those missing the bus!

Yet that ignores non-English readers, and it's a bad design if it contradicts the expectations of a majority.

The pointing finger is a definite design flaw!

Posted by: NRT at October 14, 2004 04:50 AM

Also see

Posted by: Phil Wilson at October 14, 2004 05:22 AM

darn and i really like that pig sticker

Posted by: Matt at October 14, 2004 07:46 AM

Seems like an LED by the buttons, one by the coin slot and one by the ticket slot that light up in sequence would fix this problem. I'm also guessing that better user testing would have prevented it entirely.

Posted by: George at October 14, 2004 09:46 AM

In most other devices (such as a vending machine), we have a coin slot on top, and buttons to pers below. I think the key problem in the design of the meter is that the coin slot an buttons follow this same layout, but the actual use is backwards from trained behaviour with other similar devices. Having the coins slot and buttons aligned vertically emphasises that one should put a coin(s) in first, and then press a button, until one actually reads the instructions.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at October 14, 2004 12:21 PM

The required eye movement is a gotcha, there, too. We want to read things left to right, then top to bottom, but the right way to scan that vending machine is to start at top right, then down to bottom right, then up to top left, then back to top centre! Even with big arrows leading down, the association with a big "1" followed by a coin slot is pretty strong.

Posted by: mendel at October 14, 2004 04:07 PM

Another broken feature of these machines is that the coin slot has a slight downwards slope which slopes TOWARDS the user, so the coin can roll back out. I've missed a couple of buses while trying to throw the coin upwards through the slot, only to have the machine cancel my transaction as I was taking so long to pay. London Transport fitted a black widget over some of the slots which you dropped your coin into, giving it a rolling start...but your money often gets swallowed anyway.

Posted by: rachel at October 15, 2004 06:17 AM

The Los Angeles METRO ticket machines as well as MetroLink have a small slider that blocks the coin slot until you have selected your ticket type.

This takes care of most of the problems. Yeah, there are some people who try to force the coins in anyways but the other 99.9% seem to get it.

Posted by: Gerry Humphrey at October 15, 2004 11:01 AM

I have to agree that hand seems to be pointing to coin slot. Stupid and broken.

Posted by: dusoft at October 16, 2004 06:56 PM

that blocks the coin slot until you have selected your ticket type.

That's quite useful, in Bratislava, Slovakia, we got the same machines tha block coin slot until there is ticket type button pressed.

However - one observation: people that are not familiar with the machine try to insert the coin, but it's not going inside (being blocked by iron slider) and then push it against it with no luck. It take them another 10 seconds to find out they have to press the button first.

Posted by: dusoft at October 16, 2004 06:58 PM

Of course, most Londoners have travel passes of one kind or another, so those machines affect tourists most ... must be even better fun working the instructions out if English is not your first language ... or not a language you speak / read at all!

What's sad is that they had to stop bus drivers carrying money not just for speed, but because of theft (sometimes quite violent theft at that).

Posted by: Annie at October 18, 2004 03:23 AM

The stupidity of people should not be blamed on technology.

Posted by: jake at October 20, 2004 01:18 PM

If many people have a problem with using the machine, then the design is wrong. It's simple human nature not to read instructions on everything without trying it first.

We should all write to Transport For London to complain. If you don't live in the UK, say you were visiting:

If someone notices that they fixed the machines, we can all take the credit. :-)

Posted by: Andrew at October 20, 2004 10:50 PM

Or maybe it just shows that today's society is full of people that rush to quickly through life not paying attention to the details.

Posted by: howard at October 26, 2004 10:42 PM

Oh rushing through life... for a bus... that never happens?

What no-one has pointed out is that any machine that can discern every foreign coin in the world but WON'T MAKE CHANGE is BROKEN.

I don't know these particular machines (I buy a travelcard) but it would not surprise me (I know other examples) that if the fare was 95p and one put £1 in then it refused rather than just swallowing the 5p. I know other examples where the fare/cost is set at just over a sensible amount (e.g. 1.05) with no change given.

One of the few good things about US currency is that since the largest coin is 25c then almost all machines take notes, and since thus they might as well take any [reasonable[ size of note then they almost always give change. Parking meters I think are about the only common exception -- even then, if it says 25c for 15 minutes and you put in 30c then they give you the extra time pro-rata.

Posted by: Simon Trew at November 3, 2004 05:31 PM

Actually there are 50c and $1 coins, I got a few when using the New Jersey transit, but they're not at all common.

Posted by: Simon Trew at November 3, 2004 05:33 PM

What a great idea pay before you go in central London. They say it's to saving time but when u try to get a bus in oxford street none of the machines seams to work. So, according to the policy, the driver must take you to the next stop to get a ticket. First of all, this takes much more time than paying the driver straight; second, most of the times the driver don't let you get in at all (misinformation? breaking the company rules?)so u stay there, with money but not being allowed to travel; third, if u dare to get the bending bus (fed up and frustrated)and you are unlucky enough, mr. inspector will get in, will ask you for the ticket (what's that?) and will take you to court, on top of that, to pay £95 for travelling without ticket. I've been called to be at the court the next month. Any advise? Any help to defeat this abuse?

Posted by: Antonio at November 10, 2004 02:52 PM

This is why I take the tube

Posted by: Bill McCormick at November 11, 2004 07:28 AM

They have pay parking like this on my college campus. Had to use it one day, took a few minutes to figure it out...

Posted by: Travis at June 2, 2005 03:16 AM

I had to use the night buses (at about 2 a.m. and change a Trafalgar Square. The machines there were obviously deliberately jammed and intnediing passengers were besieged by junkies trying to sell travel cards they had begged of gullible members of the public.

Posted by: Ian M at September 23, 2005 11:18 AM

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