Posted by: jjarmasz | July 1, 2011

Your Usability Moment: The Ferry Docks Ticket Machines (failure to launch!)

Since they say I’m a human factors “specialist” (to which I say, who are “they” and when did they decide what I am?) I have been meaning to start a semi-regular feature on this blog about human factors and usability. Just things I notice working well or not well around me. And I had wanted to start with the automated ticket machines at the Toronto Islands ferry docks, which are an unholy human factors disaster.

As a frequent visitor to the islands with my son (check my Flickr stream!), I like the idea of bypassing the lineup at the ticket booths and getting my tickets quickly, without involving cash, at these dispensing machines. Unfortunately that’s just a fantasy for now. These machines are almost impossible to operate, and the instructions provided don’t match the actual device. Cue the growing line of disgruntled customers cursing the apparent “idiots” ahead of them who can’t work the thing, only to realize that in fact the machine is to blame. Unfortunately for this post (but perhaps fortunately for customers), the last time I went to use these they were covered up in plastic bags:

Islands ferry docks ticket machines

The unloved ticket machines -- about to be retired?

Were they temporarily malfunctioning? Did someone come to their senses and decide to take them out of their misery? Who knows. For all I know they might be back up in service today (July 1st, Canada Day — sure to be a high-volume day at the ferry docks). Anyway, this prevents me from showing you the mismatch between the instructions and the devices themselves (such as making reference to buttons that aren’t actually on the machines!) It also prevents me from doing what I was hoping would be a bit of public service by posting a little tutorial on how to operate these infernal things (step one — avoid them, if you need to use plastic proceed straight to the “credit/debit card” ticket booths that have finally ¬†opened for the season.) Ah well.

Another funny thing: there are in fact more ticket machines than these at the docks.There are a couple that are actually past the ticket booths as well. These, while similar to the ones I am slagging here, actually have a different button layout! Not that you can tell from this pic:

More Ferry ticket machine

Ferry ticket machines inside the waiting area

I remember these as being easier to use, but I haven’t used them in a while. Unlike the ones outside the ticket booth area, I seem to remember you could buy more than one ticket at once at these — the ones outside force you pay for multiple tickets individually, inserting your card for each one separately. Terrible. Main point here: you have to operate each machine differently, so you can’t transfer what you learned on one machine to the other, despite the obvious similarities of design and purpose. Also terrible.

To conclude: now that the summer and the Canada Day long weekend are here in Toronto, go enjoy the Islands! They are fantastic. But STAY CLEAR OF THE TICKET MACHINES!

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