Observing Tech

These things are all over Grand Central.IMG_3594

They are, of course, ticket machines for the Metro-North Railroad.   Roughly 750,000 people move through Grand Central everyday, and about 21.6 million tourists per year*.  These numbers are pretty amazing.  Now think about rush hour through the station – thousands of people (a large percentage of whom need to buy tickets at the station, rather than those who have monthly commuter passes), all clambering at the ticket machines, worried they’ll miss their train in the ticket line takes too long.  Because of this, these machines need to be super efficient.  Not only for New Yorkers, but for tourists too, who probably have never used this machine before.

I’ve used this machine hundreds of times, so it’s no stranger to me.  Even so, I still wouldn’t say that I could walk through one of these machines blindfolded.  It’s not necessarily complicated, but can definitely be confusing if you’re not paying attention, moving too quickly, or just unfamiliar with the machine.

I watched 6 people use the machine (creepily standing behind a pane of glass so they didn’t know I was watching).  And what I learned is that these machines are actually quite simple.  Only one person (which was actually two women together) took longer than 2 minutes to complete their transaction.  3 people were under 1 minute, and 1 person clocked in at 1:13.

I saw two people stop at this screen:


This one always takes me a minute to digest.  If you’re not intimately familiar with the way the railroad works, you might be confused by Peak and Off-peak, and I watched two people stare for roughly 15-20 seconds trying to decode the information here.  The descriptive text appears to be very clear in it’s message, but imagine you’re in a rush to catch your train, it’s easy to read and not understand, which requires a re-reading.  If you choose wrongly, you risk either paying too much for your ticket or forking over a few dollars in cash on the train (which hopefully you have on you).

The one other screen where I saw people pause was this:


Again, while this may seem clear to New Yorkers, it might confuse a tourist, who isn’t familiar with MetroCards.

The last important observation is that 3 of the 5 people had to bend down to check to see if their ticket actually printed.  2 people just instinctively reached into the ticket receptacle, but three people waited to see their ticket be spit out of the machine, which required them bending over.  Not terrible, but not the best.


*Data found at: http://www.grandcentralterminal.com/info/eventplanning

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