User experience in the world, or “I got Connexed”

Probably I shouldn’t be writing this post right now, because I am in a fit of pique with Connex over a trip that should have taken 15 minutes and actually took an hour and a half (and finished with me walking the final ten minutes because it was easier than staying on the train). Nonetheless, Connex recently provided me with an opportunity to point out that usability is not just for computers — after all the tag line of this blog is ‘because life can be simpler’, not ‘because computers can be simpler’.

Connex recently spent no small amount of money (I would dearly love to know just how much) publishing and handing out a booklet at several stations, written by the fictional Martin Merton about train etiquette. The booklet is named There is no ‘I’ in Carriage, presumably in a dismal attempt to satirize the old management adage “there is no ‘I’ in team”, and you can download it here (warning, PDF). I was handed the booklet one morning last week as I cut through Glenferrie Station, in front of the gates, not boarding a train (which is a usability glitch all on its own, because surely those known to be using the trains are a better reader group than those who simply happen to be near a station).

This book made some good points about manners on the train, for example how reading a newspaper affects the person next to you (though I do wonder how the Connex sponsored mX fits into this advice), and how certain gents’ fellow passengers would appreciate it if they kept their legs closed, thereby taking up only their own seat. The book did raise some problems, though, that would be better fixed by fixing the cause of the problem rather than issuing expensive advertising:

  • Blocking the aisle: The book comments that ‘on an uncrowded train there is no excuse to stand in the aisle’. Well, on the face of it this does not seem unreasonable, except that there is very little “hanging on” space anywhere in the trains, and if the bars near the door are taken, the only place to hang on is in the aisles (and there is little room between the seats to get out of the way). By adding handstraps near the doors, more passngers would be able to stand out of the way.
  • Backpacks: The book directs that backpacks should be placed on your lap or at your feet. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I often carry a backpack, and if I am riding a train full of footy fans the last place I am going to put my backpack is at my feet; after all, I actually want to keep the stuff inside it, and chances of becoming separated from it during the surge of fans toward the stadium are pretty high. If, on busy trains, more time was allowed for people to get on and off, and more “holding on” points were available so that those not getting off could stand further from the doors, then I would be happy to put my backpack on the floor (as it is I never carry a backpack on the footy trains anyway, and in fact I try never to be on them, but for many people that kind of crowding is an everyday reality).
  • ‘Special needs’ seats, feet on seats, and littering: These problems are caused by rude people, for sure, but they are also listed as offences subject to fines on all trains, so one possible systemic solution is simply to have more train inspectors and issue more fines. Better still, though, would be to provide more seating on each train, not have seats facing each other (which also leads to other uncomfortable social situations) and providing rubbish bins on the trains near the doors.

Of course, you can do everything in the world to make it easy for people to do the right thing, and some people still aren’t going to do it, such is human nature. However, in any system (and trains are a system) your money is much better spent making it easy for people to to the right thing (or use the system correctly) than retrofitting documentation, signage, and penalties to prevent them doing the wrong thing. I wish Connex had spent the money they spent on this campaign adding handstraps to the trains, because I know for certain that would have made riding the train easier, but I have yet to see any difference as a result of the booklets. For a post about trains that have some nice usability features (though not in so many words), see Tony’s post about Japanese trains.


5 Responses to “User experience in the world, or “I got Connexed””

  1. 1 Tony Friday, September 21, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Whoever designed the positions of hanging rails has never actually ridden on a peak hour train. They are positioned so you either have to stand in the doorway or aisle, or else hang over a seated person infringing their personal space. I’ve been both hanger and hangee and neither is very pleasant.

    Even worse are the trams where they’ve taken at least half the seats out to make more space for standing passengers, but have provided nothing to hang on to. I’ve mentally calculated the number of people standing in the space taken up by the former seats and I reckon there could have been more people seated than are standing.

  2. 2 Rebecca Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Both the new trains and trams are certainly a step backwards in terms of comfort and logic. We have more commuters relying on our public transport services than ever before, yet the new designs cater for fewer people than ever. Passengers in suburbs 20mins from the city (like me) are regularly unable to board the train at their stations. If I do actually manage to squeeze onto the 8.01, at the next station passengers climb onto a train that is already too full and yell at everyone to move down, but no-one wants to move into the centre of the train because there’s literally nothing to hold on to. I’m average height (not tall) and I’ve clung to the scrolling information bar before and been terrified of falling. Silly really, since I couldn’t have done myself too much of an injury; there were so many people on either side of me in the Sardine Express that I would have been cushioned anyway. But what about people who are simply not tall enough to reach the overhead handholds (such as they are)? They have no choice but to make a dive for the doorway poles that Connex is telling us to keep clear. Seems to me Connex is not only incapable of providing a decent service, but also discriminating on the basis of height.

  3. 3 Tony Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Check one of our fellow blogger’s pics of a Tokyo train. Look at all the straps for people to hang onto! One suspects the designers actually take the train to work.

  4. 4 spod3 Friday, September 28, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    In fact <a href=” this book
    is a better guide to how not behave than the fictional Merton booklet, and makes us all see how we might irritate others without realizing. Of course nothing is more irritating than those fateful words “… Connex apologies for any inconvenience caused”

  1. 1 Connex: a great example of systemic failure to care « Dana’s user experience blog Trackback on Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

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