Photo by Oran
TVMs at Sodo Station – Photo by Oran

Sound Transit is hoping to revamp their Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) design prior to ULink opening. To test a few new UI concepts for the machines, Sound Transit is offering $15 Starbucks cards to riders willing to go to ST headquarters during business hours next Tuesday, August 25th.

If you are a regular transit rider and live or work nearby, this is a great opportunity to engage with your transit agency reps and spend 30 minutes of your time helping them improve the customer experience for millions of riders going forward.

To sign up, take the short survey here and indicate the half-hour time slot that you are able to attend. Not everyone who fills out the survey will be asked to attend, but ST will “notify those that the UI designers think would be a good fit,” according to Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray.

42 Replies to “Help Sound Transit Improve Their Ticket Vending Machines on August 25”

  1. I notice they’ve already started putting together the TVM’s at the UW Station (visible through the construction fence), so it seems a little bit too late to pick the design. Unless, of course, “revamp” means revamp the software that runs on the machines, rather then machines themselves.

  2. At least for adding funds to an e-purse, the current machines are very easy to use. Perhaps there are other functions in need of improvement, but not that one.

    1. There must be a better phrase than “e-purse”. Even as a native English speaker, that confused me at first. I cannot imagine what tourists or non-English speaking residents make of it.

      1. “Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
        And I always carry a purse
        I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat
        My asthma’s getting worse!”

        Read more: Phil Ochs – Draft Dodger Rag Lyrics | MetroLyrics

        “Purse” reference is proof that everybody who remembers the context should swiftly be granted retirement from Metro whatever age they are, along with people who still show up at the office in a Sonny Bono suit and haircut.

        Main trouble with outdoor TVM’s is that the finger-marked screens are impossible to read after eight in the morning.

        Also, would be good for designers to spend a day with a clicker counting how many passengers need help figuring out the readouts.

        Sad to say, though, how fast it’ll be that anybody carrying a smart-phone will join the Captain and Tenille in the 3D printed living-brain-cell hard drives of young pasengers riding driverless streetcars through quaint Old South Lake Union Town.

        “Take it…to the limit…one more time,” kids.


    2. The thing with e-purse that gets surprisingly little coverage is it’s a hidden revenue generator. Visitors leave town with money on their cards, cards get lost or broken and the value isn’t transferred to another card, or the cardholder dies and the relatives don’t know what it is or they don’t use transit here so they throw it away. All those $1.25’s and $5.75’s add up.

      And I realize that this will inevitably happen to my card someday and there’s little I can do about it. I could zero out the balance but then it wouldn’t be useful for spontaneous trips not near TVMs. If somebody gave me a card with an e-purse balance, I couldn’t readily use it because I have a pass. I keep $3-7 in the e-purse just for occasional surcharges like multi-county trips or Sounder or the ferries. In order to practically use the e-purse on another card I’d have to skip my pass for a month, but then I’d be paying more for that month’s travel so what’s the point? I could give the extra card to an occasional rider friend, but it’s hard to find an occasional-rider friend who’s not really a never-rider, or who won’t use the card for so many months that they’ll have forgotten it. I could give it to the first tourist at Westlake I see…. But the point is that almost all cards have an extra few dollars on them that will never be used up, until finally the card goes dormant and the agency appropriates the balance. Which makes it a kind of hidden fee, not really a travel fare.

      1. And don’t forget the interest they’ll earn if the feds ever ease up on the easing. Scoundrels make us pay in advance.

        But honestly, I don’t see why we are begrudging a few dollars from an agency we give two orders of magnitude more in a year. Even with that extra buck fifty they pick off the tourist who don’t just spring for hop-on hop-off and monorail, we still needed to pass new tax in the city to buy enough service.

  3. IMHO, the most important metric for judging the TVM experience is the time it takes a user who has never used one before to buy a ticket.

    There is nothing more frustrating when trying out a new transit system than to watch your train go by while you fiddle with the ticket machine trying to figure out how to pay your fare. At times, this can even create the temptation for people in a hurry to jump on an approaching train without paying and take their chances about not getting caught.

    Fortunately, Link’ high frequency means missing a train while messing with the machine isn’t as bad as it is in many other cities. If you’ve ever had the experience of buying a CalTrain ticket while the once-and-hour train is approaching the station, you’d understand.

    1. Unlike certain other systems, Link seems to have staff hanging around the stations for security.

      Any change they could be used to help people new to the system use the machines?

      Hint: if the security guard winds up shooting up one of the machines while learning how to use it, the machines are probably too difficult to use.

      1. Glenn, I wish you’d send ST a consulting resume with a detailed portfolio of the Portland fare machines that I hope will join MAX in “Nerd-Shaming” Seattle into making up for a half century of lost time.

        I also think, seriously, that the worst security threat to our stations is the pathetic and disorganized pace of DSTT operations. Nature-wide, no predator can resist anything that slow and stumbling.

        So take away the clip-boards and spring-loaded batons that I’d hate to see go off in a crowd, and train those kids to give passengers information and above all get wheelchairs in place.

        As well as saving the cost of enough lost operating time to fund an RER (pronounced REHHHHHRRRR!!!!) system between the two Vancouvers would give us some REAL Homeland Security.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The problem is that MAX has a very simplified fare structure now (no fare zones) so what TriMet does with these doesn’t really work too well when scales to, say, cover the sheer distances involved in a Lakewood – Seattle Sounder trip or what have you.

  4. I filled out the survey, but have no idea if I’m ST’s target demographic for the testing. I take public transportation every day, but since I have a UPass, I don’t have an ORCA card and have never actually used a TVM in Seattle. The only times I’ve used ORCA (for visiting relatives), I bought the card from a supermarket and loaded it online.

    Most of the time I’ve struggled with TVM’s in other cities is because I knew where I wanted to go, but not what specifically to buy. Individual tickets or load money onto an account? Day pass, one way ticket, or round trip? How many zones? Just today or for the next few days?

    I also am not a huge fan of the term “e-purse”. Would something like “ORCA bank” or “transportation bank” make it more clear what it is?

    1. I find the UI very intuitive. They just need more of them! 3 machines at Sea-Tac is a cruel joke. Do they really expect people to wait in a long line to buy a ticket? I sure won’t. Every time the Seahawks play or there is a parade, this is the result.

      1. There are six machines at SEA – but some signage pointing to all of them is long overdue!

  5. So I kind of did the survey and was told immediately that I don’t qualify for that study; I guess that’s probably because I indicated English isn’t my first language. Frustrating, indeed.

    1. That surprises me because I applied to a Metro sounding board and they told me I had a good chance but I was ultimately not selected because they wanted more diversity (nonwhite/disabled/English as a second language). I’d’ve thought ST would be the same. In any case, it’s always worth applying if you have the time, because you never know. It may depend on who else applies whether you get selected.

    2. English is /technically/ my second language, so I checked ‘yes’, and then wrote a novel explaining how my Connecticut public school AP Spanish is probably better than my first language; no auto-reject.

  6. How about this, ST. Don’t ask us what we think. Instead, research various TMV’s around the world, pick the best one, and do that here.

  7. The screens are unreadable in sunlight.

    As someone who has stood there for a Seahawks or Mariners game late morning at Kent Station, it’s nearly impossible to use the machines when the sun is shining on them.

    Create a covering that shades the machine for all times of day or, use a higher quality display.

  8. As someone who rarely uses transit and has only used the ticket vending machines 2 or 3 times, I can say that I didn’t find the system to be intuitive. However, a large portion of that could be caused by the complexity of the fare system which forces more complexity into the machine UI.

    I loved the way Chicago’s system worked when I lived there (2003-2006) because it was just a simple “add value to your card” system, and the cost of getting on the train was fixed no matter where you got on, got off, or transferred to. You didn’t have to figure anything out before you got on the train other than “Do I have $2 (or whatever the fare was at the time) on my card?” and “Will I need double that for a return trip, or will I be fast enough for a $0.25 transfer?”

    With Sound Transit’s system, I have to figure out where I am, where I am going, how much that fare is, is my return trip the same value. For example, if I am going to an event at the stadiums and want to have drinks before, maybe my first ride is TIB to Pioneer Square, but I want to just get straight home after the game, so I ride from Stadium to TIB. Those fares are different, so that’s an extra calculation. And then there is the lack of fare gates, which adds further confusion. I just paid for a ticket, do I then have to scan the card at a reader before I get on? What about when I get off? I don’t know. I have yet to ride the train here while confident that I did things correctly.

    At least in the DC system, which uses variable fares, if you mess things up it just won’t let you out until you get it fixed. On our system, as an occasional rider, I just have to guess and hope that I don’t get caught by a ticket inspector.

    1. I wish we had Chicago’s flat-rate system. The problem is that ORCA has the equivalent of Metra and Pace within it, and suburb-city peak express buses (does Chicago have any of those?). That’s what leads to the dozen fares. Also, as I understand it, Pace covers all the suburbs, whereas here we have Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Everett Transit, and others. Then there’s the Community Transit peak expresses with two fare levels, which are different from the ST Expresses, and different again from the Metro peak expresses…

      The agencies could average out all these fares, but then some agencies would lose revenue and would have to cut service. And since Metro is the most expensive agency, it would be the one to lose. There’s also the fairness of charging more for more expensive service. It’s already unfair that downtown to Federal Way (15 miles) costs less than 130th Street to 155th Street (1 mile) because of the zone boundaries

  9. I want it to tell me right away what my “balance” is. I shouldn’t have to hit any buttons. That is what most people want to know first.

      1. How many people know that and are comfortable with doing that, knowing it won’t charge them?

      2. How many people know that tapping a second time means cancel? I only know because I heard it here.

        And of course, where is a validator near University Way, Greenlake, Alki, or Kirkland?

      3. “How many people know that and are comfortable with doing that, knowing it won’t charge them?”

        Well if you’re going to get on a bus or train anyway…

        “How many people know that tapping a second time means cancel? I only know because I heard it here.”

        Thanks Brent.

  10. Need them on tunnel platforms, especially at Westlake, for those without ORCA who needs to transfer from Metro tunnel buses. I see so many travelers schlepping their suitcases up to the mezzanine just to get a ticket to the airport.

  11. I’m more concerned about the online ORCA card experience. As a relatively infrequent rider I usually check my balance before I plan an outing and add money to the e-purse. However, that money doesn’t get credited to the e-purse for up to 24 hours after I add it. And there is no way to tell online whether the money has been credited yet or not since I have to tap my card at a reader to complete the refill. Which adds up to mean that I don’t know whether I have money on my ORCA card to ride the bus or not until I’m actually at the bus stop. And if I’m at a stop without a vending machine and the transfer hasn’t happened I’m out of luck.

    Whatever the problems with the UI on the vending machines at least they can manipulate your ORCA card balance in real time. Frustrating in this era when the Starbucks app can show me a purchase I made seconds ago.

    The Solution – Allow the ORCA card to charge one day’s travel to an account in good standing no matter the balance. Yes, this would allow an account to go a few dollars in the red. But, as long as the user topped off the card online within a couple days there shouldn’t be any problem. Then, I would know I could rely on my ORCA card to get me home even if the balance was low. And, the online ePurse refresh could be effectively immediate since I could travel on the card while the back-end is working on updating the balance.

  12. I was picked to test and went through it. I use a lot of Seattle transit (and some transit other places) but did not have any experience with a TVM. I have an ORCA card with my employer and have a couple of other ones that I bring to the airport to pass out when family visit.

    ST had a TVM set up with an interface. I was video taped and asked to say what I was thinking as I doing. They gave me 3 sample transactions. I found it straightforward to use if it was simple. I also made a lot of mistakes (I wasn’t trying!) with the more complicated transactions and caught myself a couple of times, talking out loud really helped. It looked like you can see the ORCA balance and what was on the ORCA card through the TVM. We even talked about the ticket you get. Completely missed the event/sports button.

    However, I now have enough experience to use a TVM and guide a family member through it. I don’t know if the new interface is an improvement, having no experience with the old one.

    Anybody else here test? Any appetite to debrief at Starbucks, now that we have $15 cards?

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