Ironhack’s Prework: Challenge #1

Faster, cheaper, more ecological and flexible than cars, public transports are a great option to move around big cities such as Paris. But public transport network can be hard to navigate, either to find the right route, or to purchase the more optimized ticket. For my first Ironhack’s challenge, I’ve worked on a solution to ease travelers’ experience.

The Client

CityMapper is an app that is already helping thousands of travelers every day. Launched in 2011 in London, this mobile app displays transports options between two locations: it allows you to find the best public transport route when you want to go somewhere and gives you useful informations for your journey. Multiple-award-winning and well known for its humorous tone, CityMapper is appreciated by its users. But in France, there’s a pain it hasn’t manage to ease yet: the purchase of transport tickets.

Today if you want to buy a ticket to travel within Paris region, you have many options available and it can be time-consuming to understand which one is the best for you. Apps such as the RATP app or Via Navigo allow you to charge your pass with your phone, but it’s not well adapted when you do not take public transport on a regular basis, especially if you have to travel between Paris and the suburbs. Then the only option left implies you to go and buy your ticket physically.

People using public transport every day are far more likely to own monthly or annual subscription, which solves the problem of purchasing. I decided therefore to focus on occasional users living in big cities.

The Users

Interviews transcripts

I interviewed 5 people, between 30 and 37 years old, living in Paris, Argenteuil, Bagnolet and Nantes. All of them have had a subscription but have decided to terminate it at some point. They use public transport several times a month, either for work or personal purposes, but they’re not regular users anymore.

As most of them (4/5) are freelancers, their schedule and the places they’ve got to go change often. 4 out of 5 own a personal bike and use it most of the time. They chose metro, bus or RER only when their destination is too far, the weather is bad, or they cannot park their bike safely. In fact, they try to avoid public transports as much as they can.

They all have already travelled in big cities in Europe and are prompt to compare the quality of their public transport experiences in different countries.

Last but not least, they all already use public transport applications (CityMapper, RATP, Google Maps, Naoned) each time they have to travel, to check the best route, the transport schedule and various informations about their trip. And most of the time, they do that even before they go out.

The Problems

During the interviews, I asked them to tell me in detail how they do proceed when they have to take public transport specifically in Paris and many pain points emerged. Focusing on the ones regarding ticket purchase allowed me to sort them in 3 categories : accessibility, choices and usability.

Pain points identified and sorted
  1. Accessibility :
  • When arriving to a station, you never know if it’s going to be quick and simple or long and annoying. At the beginning of the month, a lot of people are queuing to charge their monthly pass, increasing dramatically the amount of time spent waiting to buy a ticket.
  • Sometimes, the only machine available in the station is broken or does not properly.
  • When they work, machines are pretty simple to navigate, but they are slow and the buttons are not enough or too sensitive.

2. Choices

  • It’s hard to find the right option when you do not want to use a Navigo Pass neither using single tickets.
  • Travelling in Paris intra-muros is easy thanks to single Ticket+ you can use with every public transports (bus, metro, RER, tram) but everything becomes way more complicated if you want to go to the suburbs: then, you’ve got to buy a special ticket, which price depends on the number of zones you’ll cross during your trip.
  • People who have a pass working in Paris intra-muros must buy a separated ticket if they want to go to the suburbs.

3. Usability

  • Paper tickets generate large amounts of waste. At a time when plane and trains tickets are broadly digitalized, still using paper tickets for public transports appears to be archaic and non-ecological.
  • Paper tickets are small pieces of paper. They’re easy to lose and if you carry number of them in your pocket or your wallet, it may take you some time to find which is the one you’ve just validated in case of control.

The MAIN pain point

Our users definitely encounter multiple pain points when they buy tickets for public transports, but they ALL insisted on the same point : they DO NOT like public transports. They use it only when they are forced to.

“ Ticket payment is really not the worst part of transport public experience.”

This recurring affirmation allowed me to identify more clearly the more important point for the users: they want to spend as less time as possible in public transportation.

Part of this problem has already been addressed by CityMapper which provides easily the best route for one’s destination, but buying a ticket is still time consuming and not comfortable. Rephrase in a more positive way, my challenge was to answer the following question :

How might we conceive a simple and quick way to get the right ticket for the right destination, no matter if it’s in Paris or in the suburbs?

The Solution

To find a solution to this question, I gathered some insights the users I interviewed gave me and used them as a starting point for ideation. They all agreed on the fact that replacing the whole physical buying process by a digital solution would be ideal.

A digital solution but which one?

Both options came to my mind: a QR code or a digital ticket store on the NFC chip of their phone. Some of them expressed their fear of not having battery on their phone when they want to use it as a ticket. It’s also important to note that in the Paris area, public transports are not equipped with QR Code readers. On the other hand, NFC chips are readable in bus, tramways, and at metro and RER stations, and they can work even when your phone is off.

Different payment options

Beside this technical aspect, I wanted to explore different ways to pay the tickets. I knew I did not have to focus on getting user’s information or payment data as everything is already stored in the app, so I looked for inspiration in existing public transport offers. I found three main options:

  1. A “pay-as-you-go” solution, charging them directly when they badge their device (ex: Oyster card in London),
  2. A digital wallet they can charge (and sometimes re-charge automatically), which they use to purchase digital tickets (ex: Pasmo and Suica card in Tokyo),
  3. A monthly bill charging them for all the trips they made for this amount of time (ex: Navigo Liberté+ in Paris),

I also discovered that in some cities, users can get a daily or a weekly cap, which is some kind of price ceiling: no matter how many trip they make, they won’t be charged more than the price cap amount. This might be interesting to dig.

“When” is the real question

At this point, I started to look for ways to reduce at minimum or even suppress the time spent in the transports for purchase purposes: if the user has to take public transports, let’s make it as fluid as possible. Which meant two possibilities:

  1. Paying directly when touching in your device at the station as you’d do with a plastic card. It’s easy and effortless, but if you want this to work, you need imperatively to touch out when arrived at your destination, which implies some cognitive load. And if you don’t, you’ll be charged the maximum amount. Easy at the beginning but not so convenient in the end.
  2. Purchasing your ticket before your trip, at home or at the office for example, and charging it on your phone. All the users mentioned they were planning their trips and checking routes before going outside so why don’t we take advantage of this moment? Plus that’s what most of plane and train companies do. This kind of solution would work anywhere, anytime, and may allow you to purchase multiple tickets for various destination in advance.

This last option conducted me to think about a technical point: you cannot load several tickets on the same NFC chip. But it should be easy to re-load a different ticket with a simple feature though. We can even imagine that you have a “default ticket” of your choice always loaded on your NFC chip and that you can simply replace it for specific trip.

Reducing cognitive load at the minimum

After reviewing all these pieces of solution, I decided to chose the options that would reduce at minimum the user’s cognitive load during travel and to make a prototype out of it.

This feature allows users to buy tickets when searching a route easily (1). They can chose to load their ticket directly on their NFC chip by taping directly on the price button (2). After a confirmation (3), their chip is instantly loaded and their ticket is ready to use, even if they turn off their device (4).

Users can also look at the details of a route (5) and save the ticket in their Ticket Wallet (6). They can add as much as tickets as they want, plan an entire week if needed or just add one ticket at a time. Then, they’ll be able to change easily the ticket loaded on the NFC chip with a simple drag and drop, or add again tickets for previous destinations.

In addition to that, a monthly bill would set the user’s free from thinking about recharging a wallet. This bill might be capped to a certain amount, to guarantee the best fare to the user, or it can be automatically adjusted to the best deal depending of the users’ amount of trips. All the trips charged will be listed and the user will be able to check how much they spent in various amounts of time (7).

With this solution, the tickets are virtually loaded on the user’s phone but they are effectively charged only when the user validates their device at the station.

The process of choosing a ticket and loading it is separated from the use of it. This can even be done before going outside. Thus, the user don’t have to think about it anymore when travelling and can enjoy a smooth experience while being charged automatically the best fare.

The learnings

I appreciated this challenge as I found the whole process interesting and as it allowed me to think about multiple questions behind a not-so-simple digital ticket feature.

The users’ insights were incredibly helpful not only to identify the right problem and but also to shape my ideas during ideation. I tried to deliver a realistic solution and focusing on the cognitive load question helped me a lot to make decisions.

I have to add that I’m a big fan of escape games. When I was looking for patterns with my post-its, and connected the dots while ideating, I felt like kinda detective trying to assemble pieces to solve a riddle !

Thanks a lot for reading! Please, don’t hesitate to share your comments about this solution. I’d be happy to read your thoughts and ideas!

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Clémence Gueidan

Clémence Gueidan

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UX/UI designer, previous journalist and game designer. I like to tell stories and solve problems.