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The blog from Andrew Sharp. February

January 25, 2010
Author: Eve-Marie Morgo

At my local station, there are three different touch-screen ticket machines of two different types. Mr. Murphy will tell you that, under these circumstances, at least one is bound to be out of order at any one time – rejecting credit cards when you’ve all but completed your purchase, failing to work because the touch-screen technology is sensitive to the cold weather, rejecting coins from Jersey which look like UK ones but aren’t, or just going off in a hissy fit because it’s Tuesday.


There are two trivial design issues (apart from the sensitivity to the cold, which we do sometimes have 30 km north of London). One relates to the software, one to the hardware.


I notice the latter when I have to move from one type of machine to another because of the above-mentioned credit card defect. If your station is not in the top 10 destinations, you have to go to an A – Z list of stations and start typing in the name of your destination.
With one type of machine, you type in W and the first station listed is W Hampstead – West Hampstead, a major interchange with the London Underground and London Overground, and increasingly popular as an easy route to the Canary Wharf financial area.


With the other type of machine, you type in W and the first station on the list is Waddon, an obscure suburban station near Croydon – so obscure that even my spell-checker didn’t approve. To get to West Hampstead, you have to type in WEST and then find the space key – because there are too many station names starting with West for West Hampstead to hit the first screen.


The first type is obviously more convenient – except for the three people wanting to go to Waddon!
Why are they different? Why did no-one think?


The hardware defect is in the small LCD screen at waist height where instructions like “Enter your PIN number” and “Withdraw your card” appear. The screen, for reasons known only to the designer (no, the manufacturer – no-one would have designed it like that) is recessed into the vertical body of the machine. Hence if you are more than about 1.8 metres tall, you can only read the screen if you take a step back from the normal position for operating the thing. Indeed, unless you really look you might not notice that there is a screen there at all. And, of course, there is likely to be a small queue behind you onto whose toes you are likely to tread when you step back!


There was a time when senior railway staff got unlimited free rail travel. While I benefited from this (and, as a retired railway employee, still do for leisure trips), I did see the downside. Because senior railway staff never bought tickets, and never went through the hassle ordinary individuals do when doing so. So there was no incentive to change. So it’s back to treading on toes and typing WEST and finding the space key on the keypad….


I hope you enjoyed reading this: I look forward to your feedback.
Andrew

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