A few months ago the Adelaide Metro began rolling out the new ticket machines on all its buses, trams and trains. These units introduce the "MetroCard" system to Adelaide - a "tap on, tap off" electronic card similar to those used in other Australian states - while still allowing commuters to use the magnetic-stripped cards that have worked for decades.

The new ticket machines are, without doubt, one of the worst examples of industrial design I have seen in a long time.

Hidden Clues

Adelaide Metro Ticket Machine in Action

Let's look at the design of the old "blue box" ticket machine (image left). Adelaide Metro tickets are generally printed with a blue or orange arrow on one side. You insert the ticket with the arrow on top, in the direction the arrow is pointing. The machine grabs your ticket, scans and prints on it in one in-out motion. Dead easy. If you happen to muck up the problem is easy to spot - either the arrow is around the wrong way or you have no trips left.

Adelaide Metro Ticket Machine in Action

Here we have one of the new ticket machines in action (image right). Note the symbol to the right of the reader slot, indicating how to orientate the ticket when you put it in. Also note, there are two ways to insert your ticket that match the symbol - and only one is correct. For the record, the ticket about to be inserted is around the wrong way - but you could tell that couldn't you?

If you get it wrong you have to turn the ticket around to check. The visual cue of the arrow and the printed trip count are hidden when you interact with the machine. Worse, the symbol on the front of the machine is completely ambiguous.

It Needs an Instruction Manual

Adelaide Metro Ticket Machine in Action

In recognition of the new machines' absolutely counter-intuitive design, Adelaide Metro have posted instructions above every single device. Hilariously even the instructions are wrong. If you tried to push the ticket in the way suggested by the image it wouldn't go. Or you'd bend your ticket.

The instructions don't help the elderly or anyone with visual or cognitive problems. I've watched one poor bugger go through every possible orientation of the ticket to get it to read. Yes, I did offer help, but the guy was so traumatised by the regular "donk!" advertising his mistakes that he just fled to the back of the bus.

The odd thing is that none of this is consistent with how you use tickets elsewhere. The new gate system at Adelaide Station uses the old "point the ticket in the direction of the arrow" convention. The gates have their own problems but at least the way you put the tickets in is reasonably straightforward.

The question is why has Adelaide Met gone for this clearly flawed design. The answer is simpleā€¦

Adelaide Metro Hates You

That loud "donk!" sound when hear you put your ticket in wrong is the Adelaide Metro letting you know you're a loser. "It makes me feel like an idiot," says one of my co-workers. Well.. you are. Adelaide Metro would like everyone else on the bus to know it too.

And when some hipster dude swipes his early-adopter MetroCard while you're trying to put your ticket through, cancelling your transaction and giving you another "donk!" in the process.. let's just say Adelaide Metro understands its priorities. And it's number one priority is driving you towards MetroCard by making the old system as awkward to use as possible.

Donning the tinfoil hat for a moment - though putting aside any issues of privacy raised by a system that can track your daily movements - a cynic might think suspect there are other games afoot. It's not like the smartcard ticketing system in other states have been rife with cost overruns, conflicts of interest and other probity concerns, have they?

As reported in The Age, a year ago the Victoria Department of Transport had $4.8 million of cardholder money in its Myki account. By now it undoubtedly has much more. The cash on hand earns a reasonable amount of interest - though there are questions about how low the rate earned is (and implicitly where the difference between current market rates and what the DoT earns might be going?). Commuters tend to leave more money on their cards than they would have put down for tickets, leaving more in the pot for the Transport Authority. I wonder whether Adelaide Metro sees similar benefits in rolling out the MetroCard system.

There are probably worse examples of industrial design out there, but in terms of sheer utility something that such a large number of people have to deal with daily should have been put together with a lot more thought. Adelaide Metro, you've done a poor job. What more can I say?


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