May 7, 2009

Students Propose Redesign of BART Ticket Kiosks

A student project has developed a more usable interface for BART's ticket kiosks, even within the constraints of the existing technology.

I School master's students Ljuba Miljkovic and Ben Cohen developed the new interface for the course Info 213: User Interface Design and Development. An interactive prototype of the redesigned kiosk is available at

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system serves the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The system's current ticket machines use an 8-button, ATM-style physical interface and sell tickets of any value, which can be reused until their balance is depleted.

Preliminary user research revealed a lot of dissatisfaction with the current kiosks. Ljuba and Ben interviewed BART riders, observed them buying tickets, and heard from BART station agents about the most frequent complaints. Many riders complained about having to adjust the value of their tickets manually in $1 and 5-cent increments, which sometimes requires dozens of button-presses. One station agent said he is asked for help with the kiosks all the time, especially by tourists and infrequent riders. Regular riders often complained about waiting in slow lines for the machines.

The redesign uses the same ATM-style hardware; its key breakthrough is allowing ticket buyers to select their destination instead. From there, the software calculates the necessary ticket value, rather than requiring the buyer to first look up fares on a separate chart and adjust the value manually. Riders can also buy tickets to either Bay Area airport with only two button-presses.

Ljuba and Ben tested their prototype with actual BART riders in the Downtown Berkeley station. They compared transaction times between the existing machines and the prototype, as well as user satisfaction with the ticket-buying experiences. Both first-time and experienced riders performed significantly better on the prototype. Also, the users interviewed overwhelmingly preferred the new design; one test participant exclaimed, "Wait, that was it? That's so much easier."

The project has already attracted interest from BART riders, sparking discussion on news aggregator sites and Twitter. Within 2 days of launch, has had over 3000 visitors. "Clearly this is a topic close to home," says Ljuba. "The response from the Bay Area community has been overwhelmingly positive." One user responded to the design by asking, "Can we make this happen? Please? Pretty please?"

Ben Cohen and Ljuba Miljkovic are master's students at the School of Information, finishing up their first year. Ben's focus is on user research, interface design and usability. Ljuba's interests are in user interface, product and interaction design. Ljuba is currently looking for an interaction design internship for the summer.


"I think your design has exposed weakness in the BART system [for] purchasing tickets. I am a BART rider and the system gives me heartburn."
–User testing participant
Sample screen from new BART ticket kiosk prototype
Sample screen from new BART ticket kiosk prototype
The current interface requires riders to adjust ticket value in $1 or $0.05 increments.
The current interface requires riders to adjust ticket value in $1 or $0.05 increments.
Ljuba looks on as a BART rider uses the prototype.
Ljuba looks on as a BART rider uses the prototype.

Last updated:

October 4, 2016