User error or system flaw?

Lately, I’ve been seeing these signs at the exit doors of buses:

A transcription of the copy in case you can’t see the image:

“Tap Out For Better Services

You make a difference when you tap out with your travel card (including concession card/pass holders)! How?

By tapping out, you provide more accurate data about bus trips and crowding. That helps us to plan better bus services.

Make a difference!
Tap out now!”

It’s an attempt at a nudge to get concession card users to “tap out” i.e. to tap their travel passes on the card reader at exit doors of buses before alighting.

(By the way , “tap out”, in this context, is a non-standard use of the term #notsayiwanttosay)

Why do I say it’s an attempt at a nudge?

Singapore has been using proximity/contactless cards for its public transport since 2001.

Most commuters have learnt to tap their stored-value cards on the entry reader when they board, and to tap the same card on the exit reader when alighting.

There is incentive to comply.

The maximum fare, calculated from when they board to the bus’ terminal destination, is deducted upon boarding.

If the journey ends before reaching the bus terminus, the card is tapped on the exit reader to obtain a refund of the balance .

To illustrate: A commuter’s journey would cost $1.50, if he boarded at a stop where the maximum fare of $2.00 was deducted, and $0.50 were refunded to him, if he tapped on the exit reader before alighting.

If the latter action were not taken, the sum would be forfeited – though if the commuter so desired, he could make a fare refund claim.

The respective penalty and hassle of the previous two outcomes thus provide a disincentive to non-compliance.

But there is no similar disincentive for concession-card holders – such as senior citizens, students, and national servicemen – who often bypass the exit reader.

This group pays a fixed travel fare, often lower than what adults riders might pay (and rightfully so, because of their relatively limited income as compared to working adults).

Because their fares are fixed, whether or not they tap their cards when alighting has no bearing on fare calculation.

Now that data collection to inform service provision has come into vogue, the behaviour of this group of riders is unproductive for transport planners.

Without knowing where and how many people alight at a certain place or time, it’d be unhelpful for, say, allocating more buses during peak periods or modifying bus routes to better serve commuters.

And that’s where the poster comes in – to remind concession-card holders to “close the loop” on their public transport journeys.

It remains to be seen, though, how much a poster could possibly nudge people to change their behaviour.

As seen from the Free Pre-Peak Travel scheme, it takes a certain approach to encourage people to break certain habits, or discourage them from doing what has been easy for them.

To be sure, not tapping before alighting is not exactly user error; it’s been a good 16 years of habituation for concession-card holders because of how the system was designed.

Yet, to bite the bullet now and apply the same “deduct when boarding, return when alighting” approach to concession-card holders may not work.

It’d entail much more churn, in terms of having to deal with multiple fare refund claims before users settle into the desired habit.

That’d take away a lot of time, energy and effort from the core business of data analysis to improve services.

Perhaps a more middle-ground approach here would suffice: word the poster differently to appeal to commuters’ sense of following behaviour norms.

Even then, it depends on the generosity and altruism of the user to follow suit.

Clearly, this is a textbook case study of why planners should pre-empt system flaws and design processes with the user in mind.

That is: make usage friendly and intuitive, while understanding users’ idiosyncrasies and catering for such quirks.

This creates systems with longer-term sustainability and adaptability to evolve, along with the times, to meet future needs.

That feeling

That feeling when... (PHOTO: Daily Mail)

That feeling when all you need to buy is one – one – laundry net but you are stuck behind Man Who Feels The Need To Buy Everything In The Japan Home Store, in the only check-out queue manned by World’s Most Meticulous And Organised Cashier, who waits patiently for the same man to count out his cash to the cent ($107.90), while you have enough time to write and edit this post, including redundant and extraneous – tautological, perhaps – words, bearing in mind that the genesis of this sentiment took place some five – five – minutes ago…

…was how I felt this weekend when I popped into the shop for what I thought was a quick purchase, but which ended up taking 10 minutes.

No wonder, then, why AI is coming for everyone’s jobs.

Reinventing the office line

These office items and gadgets, some of which were on the cutting edge in 1988, now all fit on a smartphone. Well, except for the coffee. Photo by Buck Ennis.
These office items and gadgets, some of which were on the cutting edge in 1988, now all fit on a smartphone. Well, except for the coffee. Photo by Buck Ennis.

So you know how I like to predict how and why technology should change to cleave to our modern ways of living, right?

Hence, for my next trick, I’m going to ask: Technological powers-that-be, when are we going to turn our office numbers into work numbers for the mobile?

And mind you, I’m not talking about call forwarding.

I’m referring to an actual office line that can be combined with our present personal mobile phone line – but which we can choose to switch off when we’re out of the office.

Think about it. To create a clear divide between the professional and the personal, we have:

  • Personal e-mail addresses and office e-mail addresses; and
  • Personal phone lines and office phone lines.

Before the advent of mobile data technology, office tools were often fixed, and we had to enter the office to use those specific tools.

Now, we can do almost everything on the go; we can make personal calls on our mobile phones, and check our personal and office e-mail on the same device.

So at which point did companies say: “Hey! We’re gonna stop developing technology for office phone lines because there is no need to.”?

Because of this – lapse? change of focus? – we now have work-based communication taking place on our personal lines.

Some examples: Whatsapp office group chat messages, or text messages and voice calls from clients.

It’d be nice to have the option of setting “away from office” auto-replies on our work phone lines when on leave or after leaving the office, so we can draw a distinction between work and leisure.

Therefore, I’m calling this right here, right now, Lare-style: There’s a portion of the technology that’s lagging behind everything else when it comes to the modern office telephone line.

Technological powers-that-be, please do something about it. You’ll more than reap the rewards when everyone starts adopting this service.