I’ve been traveling around a couple of cities on public transportation the last few weeks, and I keep having the same embarrassing situation at the turnstile gate. No matter how much I prepare in advance, when I go to swipe my card, I have to try it like three different ways before I finally get it right while meanwhile everyone behind me tries to set me on fire with their eyes.
Mostly I am not a complete idiot - I can follow simple instructions on, let’s say, a package of cookie dough - but the design of transit cards is really disorienting to me. There’s the clipped corner on one side, the punch hole on the other, the vertical orientation combined with a horizontal magnet stripe, and the haphazard design. Many of these features give you contradictory information about which side is “up.”
I threw together a mockup of a transit card for the CTA and the MTA with some improvements:
- A gesture pictogram showing the right way to swipe the card
- Clearly differentiated colors on front and back of the card so it is obvious how to swipe it
- Less extraneous information on the card so it’s easier to find the parts that are actually important
- Though the CTA and MTA cards reference the CTA/MTA respectively several times, neither simply mention the name of their city, which if you have four of these in your wallet does not help you move through the turnstile briskly (and if you accidentally try to use a BART card to get on the subway in Williamsburg during a rain storm it will cause people behind you to twirl their moustaches impatiently)
- Simple route diagram
P.S. A little thing about language - the CTA card includes no instructions in Spanish, and the MTA card seems to randomly dispense some cards entirely in English and some cards entirely in Spanish, even though according to some statistics I made up 16% of New Yorkers and 12% of Chicagoans speak Spanish as their primary language. The newer card vending machines ask your langage preference when you buy the card, like an ATM. As long as they’re asking, the machines should really just use that data to dispense the appropriate card.