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In the United States, rapid growth in passenger miles traveled and people’s high automobile dependency lifestyle give rise to the traffic congestion at rush hours in the metropolitan areas. Traffic congestion has been a serious impediment to the quality of modern life. It frustrates millions of American commuters daily, when they are forced to pay extra money for gasoline to sit in traffic jams wasting their time. Texas A&M Transportation Institute's (TTI's) 2012 Urban Mobility Report suggested that in the year of 2011, congestion had caused total of 5.5 billion hours travel time delay and $121 billion fuel cost; and the extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel waste had resulted in 56 billion pounds of greenhouse gases released. American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Greenhouse Brochure also reported that transportation sector was responsible for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The punitive worsening of air quality in urban areas further threaten the human health, as some toxic pollutants, such as CO, NO2, etc., are correlated with human cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and even cause cancer. Besides, transportation activities are closely linked to notable environmental problems that drove the observed global climate change, which impact much more than life of single persons, but actually the entire biosphere.
Public transit is crucial to be part of the solution in coping with traffic congestion and its related issues. Steady growth in total number of private vehicle ownership only makes the problematic situation worse, since besides the extra burden it puts on roads, high ownership rate reinforces automobile dependency of American household. Public transit, as an alternative to single-occupancy vehicles, helps reduce personal average miles of travel and fuel consumption. APTA studies indicate that by 2013, use of public transit had achieved annually 4,400 miles reduction of household driving and 865 million hours of total travel time saving in congestion. The Greenhouse Brochure also showed nationwide, public transit use has saved 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline or equivalent and reduced 37 million metric tons of CO2 emission annually.
OneBusAway (OBA) is an open-sourced service system launched in 2008 that helps improve commute experience for riders by providing real-time bus arrival information. Ever since launched, OBA had been adopted by 8 cities. OBA service effectively addresses riders’ dissatisfaction about the unreliable waiting time while transferring.
Public transit ridership growth turned out to be rather limited. Private car drivers are reluctant to shift to public transit, because of the flexibility and reliability that their private cars always assured them and the many uncertainties related to public transit commuting.
Often times, riders choose to seek helps by Google search. Google search is effective for generic inquiries, but falls short for specific questions about real-time events. Also, many riders choose to call customer service or ask operators at train stations for help. All of these approaches are one-directional communication with intrinsic defects. For example, when many riders are depending on one customer service representative to answer one same question, it obviously will result in ineffectiveness of Information delivery. In addition, sensory limitations will affect the information acquiring speed. For example, it will be very hard for the riders to learn about a service disruption happened at a prior stop.
1. Increase the communication among users in the OneBusAway community
2. Keep consistency among app platforms
3. Deliver design solutions to encourage the use of public transportation.
I started the project with secondary research. Here are a few key findings that have enlightened the new feature design.
Social media is an effective approach to the problem discussed above, with all its particular advantages compared to traditional information systems. First, communication on social media is both two-way and asynchronous. A social media user can be an information seeker and giver. And, answers to the questions from the past on social media can inform other information seekers who came up with the same question later in time. Secondly, one question posted by an information seeker can hold attentions from many information givers. The likelihood of acquiring accurate and reliable information rises. The third advantage is from the real-time perspective of information acquiring. Social media crowdsource information contributed by the public. The more information givers active on the social media platform, the more likely an information seeker can get real-time answers.
Merriam-Webster online's definition:
The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people from online community.
Crowdsourcing in the transportation field is associated with many successful mobile presences, such as Tiramisu and Waze. In a crowdsourcing public transit system, riders will acquire as well as deliver information. Transit service providers can leverage the platform to push out updates like route changes or cancelations due to traffic accidents or ongoing constructions. However, there are many unforeseen difficulties of creating such a system. To be successful, the crowdsourcing system will need to rely on a certain sense of community spirit and require individuals from the crowd to participate in the process voluntarily.
In order to achieve better performance, it is important to design a mechanism that can implement the right incentives of contribution and attract enough participants. There have been many studies emphasized on how to build a trustworthy and successful crowdsourcing system. Reputation system is one effort to make. The concept of reputation is most often associated with the notion of trust-building. It helps information givers to build trusts, and helps information seekers identify the high versus low quality of contributions and make judgments on their trustworthiness. In addition, Dr. Dellarocas found in his research at Boston University (2010) that a reputation system socially rewards the most effective contributors, which induces user participation and facilitates communications among users. The reward system is a powerful form of lock-in and can be used strategically to increase loyalty of users easily.
OBA app can develop a social media platform and crowdsource real-time information from its community. The platform will directly engage transit riders and transit service providers in communication so that they can exchange real-time information and aggregating mutual benefits.
OBA users can ask/answer questions, report issues
Public transit agencies can push out updates and notifications
OBA should also create a reputation system that allows users to rate each other. Each user's rating scores will count up to his/her reputation score. The scores can help the community build trust through reputation. The system can also socially reward the most effective contributors in order to induce participation and increase customer loyalty.
Rating scores add up to a reputation score
Badges are assigned by community pages to the most effective contributors
Three personas created were based on three generic scenarios summarized from the many. These riders include people of almost all ages, genders and education levels. They take public transit for many different purposes and goals, such as grocery shopping, getting around the city, or leading low-carbon lifestyles. And they vary considerably in their public transit riding frequencies and their familiarity to the city.
The first persona includes people who take public transit frequently for various purposes. Transit riding is part of their daily routine.
The real-time bus arrival information frees me from waiting at a bus stop with no idea when the bus will come.
I hope to encourage more people to lead low-carbon lifestyle as I do.
Offering helps to other riders makes the waiting time more meaningful.
The second persona includes people who travel to new cities or ride public transit for the first time. These people are not familiar with the transit system, but would like to rely on which to get around.
I would like to know if it is possible to get around the city using just public transit.
It is a hard to make decision on using merely public transit service when traveling to a city I have never been to.
I hope OBA can foresee all the difficulties for me and help me prepare for all uncertainties.
The third persona includes people using public transit for a rather specialized trip purpose. For example, Joe prefers taking public transit to downtown for dinner on Friday nights, because it's hard to find a parking space.
Route-changes sometimes cause me troubles if I'm not aware of it.
I hope OBA can help me plan trips based on real-time bus arrival information
In addition to the official notifications about a route change, I hope OBA could provide me with more detailed information or guidance.
The three personas and their motivations of using OBA system uncovered a major challenge of transit riding experience: lack of effective communication. Although there are usually customer service, sometimes peer riders and rarely station operators who can offer helps, it is difficult to get effective information, especially when the inquiry is too specific or under exceptional case (i.e., does a 5-year-old kid need ticket to get on the bus? Do I need to prepare change? etc.). In addition, real-time information is critical for public transit riding. However, sensory limitations can affect the information acquiring speed (i.e., emergent service disruption happened at the previous station/stop).
I sat down with a pencil and sketched out my ideas and the basic feature structure on paper.
Once I made sure that I was proceeding with the best idea, I looked back to the three personas, identified the major/overall tasks that each persona is trying to accomplish, and created three different scenario-based wireframes. Since the tasks are quite simple, I decided not to decompose the subtasks into more level of detail.
The two images below were the final wireframes for the two features.
Design Rationale: Each Route and Stop has its own Community Page (i.e. Route 372 CP). Users only join the pages they care about. Community Pages can effectively classify information and make sure the information only gets the right audiences.
Always keep the map close at hand
Design Rationale: Maps visually communicates information faster and more accurate than textual instructions.
Ever since the beginning of the project, I started to empathize with this business group - local transit provider (MARTA in this case). What are the goals they have? What are the difficulties to hit the goals? How a transit app like OBA can do to help? I started to think of these questions. I first looked into the current communication process. Public transit agency pushes out service updates for transit riders. The riders also report issues to the transit agency. I realized the major defect existed in the second step. The time-consuming inquiring process delayed the information acquiring speed. However, transit riders usually expect real-time information while they are standing at bus stops.
How a transit service provider deal with the REAL-TIME information needs? With the many questions raised from the design process, I decided to conduct an interview with someone from the local transit agency, MARTA. My advisor helped me connect with a Marketing Department Manager.
"Communication is always a problem."
During the interview, I learned about the current solutions MARTA had to facilitate communication between the MARTA service and the public transit riders. "Communication is always a problem," the manager said. Many efforts had been made. MARTA information center (itsmarta.com) is a place where riders can plan trips and view scheduled arrival time. Riders can sign up for MARTA alert to receive future service updates through phone messages. Riders can also choose to speak their concerns with MARTA customer service and will be provided with real-time location of a bus and information about some known service disruptions. Social media efforts include MARTA facebook group, On the Go app and MARTA See & Say app.
The manager also expressed her strong interests in the new Community feature. She pointed out two problems existed about the communication.
Customer Service representatives could only speak about the known/reported service disruptions. However, the there were still many unplanned emergencies on road, for example, constructions.
MARTA needed to filter the information being announced to the public.
The wireframes described the page layout, overall interface look, navigation and functionalities. I found it was the right time to build a prototype based off of the wireframes and do the first round of usability testings. The testings aimed to identify defects in user flow, evaluate usability of the layout design and discover missing goals.
In total, 7 one-on-one sessions were carried out and each one last for about 40 to 50 minutes. At the beginning of each testing session, the participants were asked to consent their voluntary participation and were prepped by a short introduction to the study. I explained to them that we were testing only the rough ideas of the app’s two new features with fake data. During each session, I clarified the goals the participant should try to achieve under the provided scenario. Then asked the participants to walk me through each step they took and explained how they understand every screens, while I was taking notes, making observations and interrupting he/she with semi-structured interview questions.
1. As add-ons, the two new features appeared to be somewhat alienated from the bulk features (available features) of the OBA app. The 4 OBA users who were used to bookmarked pages found joining a community page confusing. These problems were addressed by redesigning the information architecture of the app.
As shown below, the new architecture removed the Archive function and kept User Profile as a separate feature from the Community. The Recent and Bookmark features were combined into a single Favorite feature which includes all the favorited stops as well as the recently checked stops.
Wireframe : Three tabs on top
Information Architecture Redesign
2. The participants tended to search for the destination address to start planning trips, and search for keywords to get the information they needed. Most of the participants expected the search function to be global, thus no matter what tasks were assigned, many started with searching.
The new design came with a global search function (as shown below). However, the search box would not allow users to search for the crowdsourced information. Keyword search function for crowdsourced information was available on each community page (as shown below on the right).
Wireframe : Search in feature
Keyword search in Community
3. In the early design work, issues reported either by transit service providers or individual users were hidden inside the community pages. These important information should instead be delivered to the end users as notifications or kept prominent inside the app when a user is likely to be affected.
With all the problems taken care of, the initial user interfaces (UI) were created. The UI design followed the style of the original iOS app and the two new features were expected to be close to the final high-fidelity prototype, because the next step involved identifying usability problems of the interface design.
Two more rounds of usability testings were carried out with the goals of identifying any usability problems and assess the performance of the two new features.
The two rounds of testings served for the same set of goals and followed the similar testing structure and scenarios, but were planned for different types of audiences. The 2nd round focused on frequent public transit riders, the 3rd round focused on private car drivers and walkers who depend on their feet.
In total, there were 7 plus 5 usability testing sessions. In each session, the participant was given a background scenario and was asked to perform a set of tasks using an iPhone provided to them with the prototype installed. I asked questions every time he/ she landed on a new screen. The questions were semi-structured. In addition, several metrics data were collected during the course of testings: successful task completion, critical errors, likes, dislikes and recommendations.
The results (as below) demonstrated major progresses been made in completing those tasks written in red: found route 372 Community Page, found information they need, locate a route on map, and walk to the first stop using the app.
Interface Design 1.0
Interface Design 2.0
Interface Design 3.0
1. Route 372 search result (bottom sheet) page should include search boxes on the top. A finding from the tests was search box and map were the two most important things to keep at hand for the users at all time.
2. The "Stops" list in the final design were assigned colors indicating route directions shown on the map.
Interface Design 1.0
Interface Design 2.0
Interface Design 3.0
1. The "Back" button in 1.0 (above left) was not prominent enough to catch the eyes of the user so has been changed to a back arrow in on top left of the bottom sheet.
2. The icon used for joining a community page became more explicitly after it was changed to a “join” button.
Original Design - Design 1.0
In the original design, tapping on a drawer would locate the step on the map. Participants had troubles figuring out how the mechanics worked.
Final Design - Design 3.0
In the final design, the map view and the list view contain the exactly same amount of information. Only the information is displayed in different format so that two choices will be provided to the users facilitating decision making on which view they prefer.