How can we make the everyday commuter's journey more efficient?

service design: improving an underused mta feature


For our service design project, we decided to address a very specific area in the NYC subway system - the entrance to its stations. A practiced NYC commuter optimizes their routine around speed: they leave little buffer time from home to work and back. However, every now and again they swipe their card at the turnstile and receive the dreaded "Insufficient Fare" message. They must refill their metrocard at the kiosk which may cause them to miss their train resulting in significant delays. The MTA has a solution to this problem, but they have not promoted it well enough to help alleviate this pain point. We proposed a comprehensive plan to increase awareness of the MTA’s EasyPay Xpress plan, to present the information about the plan in a more digestible manner, and to increase the appeal of the plan itself. 

Scope: 3 Weeks

Other team members: Kohzy Koh, Eli Lee

My role: Collaborated in design process, conducted ethnographic research and heuristic evaluation of current website. Produced and edited pitch video.



The Problem: 

Every little delay along the everyday commuter's journey triggers great frustration. The entrance to the subway station is one place where such delays occur. The rider might forget their card balance and suffer "turnstile groin" when the card shows insufficient fare. When they approach the ticket machines to refill their card, they have to endure long lines, dirty touch screens, and glitchy software.



The Process:

We decided early to narrow our focus to the topic of access to subway stations. We did a quick exercise where we identified several key personas among NYC subway riders: the regular commuter, irregular commuter, tourist, disabled, and rider with bulky items. From this list, we chose the regular commuter as our key target audience since this is the persona who uses the subway most frequently and could benefit from the subtle change to their daily experience.

Mapping out user journeys for different subway riders.

Mapping out user journeys for different subway riders.

Key traits of the regular commuter persona.

Key traits of the regular commuter persona.

Service Blueprint for the MTA's provision of station access.

Service Blueprint for the MTA's provision of station access.


What we found was that the regular commuter has a unique option that other commuters do not have: the EasyPay Xpress metrocard, a card that autorefills itself. This card has the potential to drastically improve the entrance experience of regular commuters. No longer would they have to see "Insufficient Fare" alerts when they forget about their card balance or their monthly card has expired, and they would no longer need to use the ticket kiosk––saving them time and keeping them away from potential germs. Our aim then shifted to maximize the potential of EasyPay Xpress to help regular commuters.

Kohzy and I then conducted further ethnographic research, specifically by testing out the application process for the EasyPay Xpress card ourselves. We also conducted a survey of 37 New Yorkers, asking them whether they were familiar with the EasyPay Xpress plans, and if they were using this card.  We then created a video to showcase the results of our research and to empathize with the regular commuter. (View at top.)


Drawing upon our experiences in the research above, we mapped out the entire user journey for an individual applying for the EasyPay Xpress card. We then held a brainstorm session to identify possible interventions.

Mapping the touchpoints in the EasyPay Xpress application process.

Mapping the touchpoints in the EasyPay Xpress application process.


The design:

Raising Awareness

The first part of our service design intervention is an expansive campaign to raise awareness of the EasyPay Xpress metrocard. We felt that the card alone addressed enough problem spaces that raising awareness would be crucial to improving the experience for seasoned commuters. Our suggestions spanned a wide range of touch points. Key suggestions include: 

  • Redesigning the EasyPay poster and flyer

  • Shortening the website URL and rebranding the plan to "EasyPay"

  • Displaying this material at kiosks where regular commuters experience the most frustration

  • Directing commuters straight to the website rather than to a station agent

  • Displaying interactive ads on the MTA's touchscreen kiosks

We also produced a range of mockups to demonstrate how this would look in a real-world scenario.


Displaying the Information Better

The second phase of our proposal focuses on making the information about the EasyPay plan easier to understand for all commuters who are interested in it. Here, we recommended three key interventions:

  • Training station agents with short pitches on the plan

  • Rewriting copy on the publicity material so the value proposition of the plan is immediately clear

  • Redesigning the website 

Increasing the Appeal of the Plan

Raising awareness and making plan information clearer would both be of limited effectiveness if the plan itself is not appealing to commuters. For the third part of our proposal, we recommended several interventions to increase the appeal of the plan. These include:

  • Improving the card design to make it a status symbol for the "true New Yorker"

  • Lowering the monthly cost of the Unlimited Plan to $110 from $116.50

  • Giving riders the option to easily terminate, suspend, or switch their plan

  • Piloting a new tap-and-go key fob format for a long-term overhaul of the subway card system


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