Physical Computing - Week 3 - Observing an SBS Ticket Machine

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Today I thought critically about a public technology that I use fairly regularly - the MTA Select Bus Service ticket machine. These terminals are situated at every SBS stop, and are the way in which a rider pays for riding the express bus as well as receiving the receipt that proves that they paid. They are a part of this bus ecosystem, and allow for riders to get on and off the buses quickly without scanning their Metrocard upon entry, instead relying upon an honor system and occasional checks by ticket agents.

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The process itself is simple and quick enough to consider this terminal an ‘appliance’ rather than a ‘platform’ by the definition given by Graham Pullin in Design Meets Disability. However for a regular user of the New York subway I actually think it can be confusing in its variation from the machines used to put money on Metrocards. They largely look the same, however the refill machines are almost entirely based on a touch screen operation, while these ticket machines are not. This is interestingly in contrast with a visitor to New York who knows neither system; for this person the ticket machine surely would be totally straightforward as the color-blocked design makes for a clear indication of sources of input and output.

In my opinion, the greatest weakness of this tool is that it ultimately takes the digital Metrocard system and makes it totally analog. Cities in other parts of the world have similar honor-based transit systems, but they involve recording your payment digitally through a scan within the bus or tram. Within the SBS bus system the only record of your purchase is a paper receipt, which is fraught with possibility for error. In my experience I have had the machine indicate that it has charged me, but not print a receipt due to some mechanical error. I have also had the receipt tear incorrectly out of the machine, making it a useless indicator of my purchase. And this is not even acknowledging the people unfortunate enough to lose their tickets.

Ultimately I would say that as a standalone tool it is a great, well designed appliance, but that it functions as part of a flawed ecosystem that it does not greatly improve through its existence.

pcompStefan SkripakComment