Jun 12 2010

When “smart” should not trump “simple”

Last fall the public transportation company for this region of Sweden introduced a new "smart card" with a really stupid name (and an even worse color scheme) for use on its trains and buses.

Skånetrafiken's Jojo card replaced both the standard rebate card (load it with cash and receive a 20% discount on fares) and the monthly unlimited travel card that commuters rely on. Initially the idea sounded really promising because the monthly unlimited travel card was not valid for trips to Copenhagen, which means a lot of people (myself included) had to carry both. I loved the idea of "one card fits all" and was even willing to forgive the garish pink plastic holder that the teal green card came in. (Though I did quickly replace it with a leather one.)

But with the new Jojo card came new ticket machines, and here is where the system went horribly wrong. While these machines do give you the option to do the transaction in English, that is where their user-friendliness ends. The process of buying a ticket for a destination that's not designated as a "Quick Choice" takes a minimum of 7 screen touches and two passes of your Jojo card in front of a reader. If you're paying with a bank or credit card it takes several more steps than that. And should you need to load your Jojo card with cash before buying a ticket, you might as well just pull up a chair, because you're going to be there for awhile.

Adding insult to injury is that fact that the Swedish version of the instructions are so poorly written that earlier this week I had to ask a technically savvy Swedish college graduate colleague of mine to switch to the English menu in order for me to talk her through the transaction over the phone. I KID YOU NOT. She had already tried twice and failed to be issued a ticket, and was worried about missing her train.

Which brings up another issue. Guess what Skånetrafiken? People buying train tickets are often in a hurry! A transaction requiring five to nine steps cannot be completed quickly…especially when some of the machines (there are at least two different models) have a four- to five-second processing time before actually spitting out the paper ticket. I know that doesn't sound like very long, but believe me, it's enough of a lag to make people wonder if perhaps they missed a step somewhere along the line, which leads them to touch the back button on the screen, which…well, you get the picture.

And if the natives are having this much trouble with the system, can you even imagine the difficulties visitors will have? Given the outrageous fees that get tacked on if you want to buy your ticket from a staff member on the train, it would only take a handful of confused tourists parked in front of a couple of ticket machines to keep dozens of people from making their trains.

Fortunately, we will be getting a two-month reprieve from these evil machines starting next Tuesday. That's when the annual Skånetrafiken Summer Card becomes valid. The first couple years I lived here these cards were a huge bargain, good for 25 days of unlimited travel throughout Skåne between June 15 and August 15 for half the price of my monthly commuter card. For the last two summers the card has been valid for 50 trips rather than 25 days, which is still a pretty good deal.

In order to keep track of the number of trips (or days) on the card, you inserted it in the ticket machine on buses or at the station whenever you were taking a train. Destination was irrelevant since the card was valid for any distance within the region…so this was a fairly quick and painless transaction. No buttons to press or screens to touch…just insert the card and it kicked out a ticket. I wondered aloud several times just how this was going to work in the new Jojo ticket machines.

But from all appearances, Skånetrafiken officials decided they didn't event want to try. The Jojo version of the of the Summer Card is valid for unlimited travel within the Skåne for the entire two month period, and it's hard to imagine that this doesn't have something to do with the comically complex ticket machines that users hate. On the other hand, they may be just trying to make up for the terrible service we were subjected to during the winter.

Feed my ego!

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