This week I went to subway station to observe how people use the metro-card machine.

I went to 2 subway stations (1st Av. & Union Sq.) and observed 39 people using the machine. 36 people were using this machine to refill their metro-cards, and some of them buy single-ride tickets. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone refill time for their tickets.


If you want to refill money your metro-card, there are eight step:

  1. Choose languages.
  2. Select metrocard type                                                                 Pcomp0301
  3. Select transaction                                                                     Pcomp0302
  4. Choose pay method
  5. Insert metro-card
  6. Refill money or refill time
  7. Choose amount
  8. Choose and insert debit/credit card to pay.

Normally, a skilled people could finish his or her fulfill process in 25~48 seconds (ignore the time people find their wallet). And the time spend from step1 to step4 were varied from 5s to 20s. For the people who is not familiar with this interaction, it would takes far more time to understand this system. I saw a woman used Spanish version try to refill her card, but confused at step 2 and step 3. And finally she asked for help to figure out her way to recharge her card. It took about 3 minutes.

Actually I don’t really like this interaction design. I think it should not have so many steps since the most people are using this machine to refill money for their metro-card.

In step2, the biggest button is to buy a new $10 metro-card, so people could easily jump to phase 7 and pay. I have to say I used it the first time I took subway in New York city. So it might be designed for people who first time to use it.

In step7, people who were going to use cash or coins would press other-option button and input the amount they just have. This would also takes a lot of time because many people would stand there and calculating the amount.

In this afternoon, I saw a woman who carried a baby and try to refill her metro-card. It took her about 1 minute and 30 second to complete this process. It’s also a kind of problem for people who carried baby or little disabled.

In my opinions, there are many aspects need to be improved.

The user interface should be changed and added some graphic language for people who are confused about the button.

Maybe it would be great to add a refill-money button in the step2 to make the most used function faster.

Add little button at step7 like ‘+0.25’, ‘+0.10’, so people could easily count the money they have.

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