Adelaide MetroCard: a transit system example of user-hostile UX
As we begin emerging from the Pandemic, at some point cities will need once again to focus on how we discourage automotive dependence and encourage public transport patronage. To do so, certain truths must be recognised:
- commencing a trip by public transit must be as easy, and preferably easier, than commencing the same trip by car
- systems encourage car use in sometimes subtle ways, including easy (re)registration systems; public transit is competing with these systems.
Yesterday I came back to my hometown of Adelaide after over a year elsewhere. Visiting my Nana in hospital, I wanted to catch the bus back to where I was staying. This proved an exercise in frustration. Anyone who had access to a car would have given up.
- I had a MetroCard from when I last lived here. I had no idea how much credit was on it. Going to the website I was encouraged to login, but I couldn’t remember if I had an account and if so what the details were. I tried to create a new account, but after entering my name and date of birth I was informed I already had an account. So I can’t create a new account — unless I lied about my date of birth. Given the MetroCard I have was possibly linked to my inaccessible account anyway, I ruled out this option.
- No way around this impass, I called the helpline. Eventually after hearing a long prerecorded spiel about how I should register so that my credit card can be automatically deducted (hint: if someone is calling you, chances are there’s a problem and they don’t want to hear about how convenient your system is) I got through to someone who tried her best to help me. I gave my email address, was allocated a temporary password, but later when I tried to login to the system my logon still wasn’t registering.
- I caught the bus to the interchange (at least the helpline operator was able to tell me I still had a little bit of credit on my MetroCard) where there was a machine to allow me to recharge without navigating the useless (to me) website. However, despite there being a slot to insert change and no signage indicating credit card only, there seemed no way of actually topping up the MetroCard with spare change. I gave up.
How does this compare with a car?
- Provided the car was registered (the equivalent of having a balance on one’s MetroCard) I could just get in and drive. In order to find out if my car was registered (the equivalent of checking my balance on my MetroCard) I could very simply look it up just knowing my vehicle registration (plate) number.
- At some point one will need to re-register the vehicle. This too is made simple. The motor vehicle registration agency sends me a payment request with a unique number; one enters this number on the website and one can re-register one’s vehicle. Or just use one’s licence number (on the back of one’s licence) and one’s plate number. Again, no password required.
- All payment activities required with one’s vehicle (or example, petrol) can be conducted in cash. I know most people have credit cards, but not everybody does — particularly the poor.
Public transit must appeal to occasional users
There’s no doubt that systems such as user accounts and auto-recharge make public transit systems easier to use for regular users. But, by definition, regular users begin as an occasional user.
The EzyReg vehicle registration system in South Australia — unlike the MetroCard system — is not user-hostile. It makes it trivially easy (if one has the financial means) to maintain one’s vehicle’s registration. This includes checking the date of registration, and re-registering when required.
The MetroCard system is frustratingly user-hostile in comparison. It’s no wonder public transit patronage was declining in Adelaide well before the effects of the Pandemic.