P Comp

Public Interface Observation - Subway Turnstiles

I observed a some turnstiles where people swipe their Metrocard to enter the 4th Ave/9th Street subway station in the afternoon. This station is not as as high traffic as some stations in Manhattan, so people do not typically queue and crowd around the turnstiles. I think this is reflected in that there are not as many turnstiles, though I would assume that they are designed for efficiency, so people can get through as quickly as possible, and to be foolproof, to ensure fare is paid, without being too inconvenient to use.

Before observing this piece of technology, I wrote down my assumptions on how people would use it.

  1. Someone would approach the turnstile, Metrocard in hand
  2. He/she will swipe the card on their right side, following the direction arrows on the card and on the swiper
  3. There are three scenarios that will happen:
    1. If he/she has enough money on the card, it will say "GO" on the little screen and make a little beep.  Then he/she will push on the turnstile and enter the station
    2. If he/she does not have enough money on the card, the screen will say something about "insufficient fare" and not permit him/her to go through.
    3. There is some kind of error, and the screen will request that the user swipe his/her card again.

Some general and unexpected observations about the overall experience:

  • If someone has some larger items, like a stroller, it is really hard to go through the turnstile. In this case, people will go through the emergency door.
  • For those who have their Metrocards ready to go, the process is quick. Swiping and pushing through the turnstile only takes a matter of seconds.
  • The longest step for those who are unprepared is searching for their Metrocard. This renders that particular turnstile unusable for a while, so the flow of foot traffic changes slightly.
  • Bulky items like bags can make the process of going through the turnstile awkward and slow things down a little bit.
  • Kids can just duck under the turnstile. I looked it up and kids under 44in get in free. This makes sense since they might need assistance and wouldn't be able to reach the swiper anyways.
  • Most people's experiences went as expected.

Reflecting on the Grant Pullin's "Design Meets Disability" [1], it would make sense that the designers of the turnstiles would try to make the interaction as universal as possible since NYC is so diverse. I only observed able bodied people interacting with the turnstiles, so I am curious how the design accounts for wheelchair users (go through the emergency doors?) or visually impaired users or other less abled people. Maybe it is so inconvenient to navigate that certain populations avoid taking the subway altogether. Also, I didn't focus on this, but the exit turnstile is one of those cage-like ones that are super tall. I can imagine there are many challenges with that as well. I wonder what ways might we make this public interaction more friendly for disabled users.

1. Pullin, Graham. Design Meets Disability. MIT Press, 2011.