On one of our monthly trips to Berlin, I noticed something very disturbing at the central station. It seemed that, for many tourists, the first impression of the city was actually the ticket vending machine for the local transportation, which would bring them to their hotels or meeting locations.
But this first impression was by far not pleasant: people were queuing up in front of the machines on the narrow platform, waiting for one of the two machines, conveniently located on the opposite ends of the platform, become available. I noticed people rushing up and down between to machines to see which one is free. And the problem is only caused by the fact that it takes forever to purchase a ticket on one of these machines.
Is this how tourist offices and city planners imagine the first impression of their city?
While waiting, you can easily observe the obstacles the customers are facing. After picking the right tariff, which is not only difficult for tourists, paying €22,50 with coins (since the machine did not accept the bills) is next to impossible. And even if you happen to possess one of the few card types accepted by the vending machine, the transaction takes what feels like 20 minutes.
But it could all be so easy. Most customers purchase only a very limited number of the ticket tariffs. So even if it is not possible to reduce the overall amount of these vast options to a few that works for the majority, the most important ones could at least be placed very prominently on the screen. Only reducing the choice improves usability exponentially, especially for people that are new in an environment like tourists.
Smartphones have become ubiquitous. They are always connected to our banks anyway, so they are the perfect tool for payments of such small amounts. Customers could use the guidance of the vending machine to select the right ticket and finish the purchase on their phone, while still hopping on the train in the last second. For more advanced users, the complete purchase process could happen on the phone without the need of additional machines. The purchase process and the mobile ticket of the Deutsche Bahn (http://www.bahn.de) is a good example.
Update: Following an interesting trend, the Deutsche Bahn is now also looking for startups and innovative ideas covering the topics of mobility, mCommerce and mobile payment, which can be linked to their train stations. They offer a trial run of those services in a S-Bahn station in Berlin, with an option to roll it out to all stations later on. https://www1.deutschebahn.com/nextstation-de/start/