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.

Stuff you must read today (Sun, 11 Dec 2016) – The Psychology and Politics Edition

Liberals, authoritarianism, psychoticism – and fake news

Why It Took Social Science Years to Correct a Simple Error About 'Psychoticism'

Liberals are not as psychotic and authoritarian as conservative fake news sites would have you believe.

I was reading Gabriel’s blog, which had this story on how “Study from 2012 now corrected to show liberals, not conservatives, more authoritarian”.

With the current furore over fake news – and with the story itself looking somewhat dubious – I thought I’d dig a bit deeper.

First, I found the actual paper in question. I also found the erratum that had been published.

Then, I found this page which had a link to “Why It Took Social Science Years to Correct a Simple Error About ‘Psychoticism'”.

The story provides both background and backstory to how the error was made and how the correction came about.

(As an aside, it also demonstrates how the scientific community is not immune to drama, intrigue and confirmation bias, too.)

More importantly, it explains what psychoticism means:

…psychoticism, in this case, doesn’t mean psychotic in the everyday sense of the word…. Psychoticism…is a cluster of concepts related to people’s level of individuality and penchant for falling in line — it’s measured using questions like “Do you prefer to go your own way rather than act by the rules?” Being high in psychoticism means you have less respect for rules and for order in general — it doesn’t mean you are psychotic or otherwise mentally ill. (my emphasis)

I was still curious about the authoritarian bit, though, as the story made no mention of the term.

So I went to do a bit of reading and this is what I’ve found from Professor Glenn Wilson’s lecture on “The Psychology of Politics”:

  1. Adorno et al (1950) list a number of characteristics that typify an authoritarian person, which include:
    • Tendencies toward militarism;
    • Strict morality;
    • Ethnocentrism;
    • Rigid conventionality; and
    • Blind obedience to higher authority combined with a vindictive attitude toward weaker individuals.
  2. While

    Adorno et al assume that authoritarianism was an exclusively right-wing characteristic…H. J. Eysenck (also a German refugee) reckoned that there was an equivalent authoritarianism of the left. Eysenck (1954) used factor analysis to reveal two independent dimensions of political attitudes that he called radicalism (R) and toughmindedness (T). R was basically the left-right dimension, while T was a kind of totalitarianism shared by Marxists and Fascists. Subsequent studies have shown that T connects with an aggressive and dogmatic personality style (Eysenck & Wilson, 1978). Communists and Fascists were furious at the suggestion they had anything in common and, as if to prove the point, Eysenck was physically assaulted by representatives of both groups at different times in his career. (my emphasis)

  3. And “Hirsh et al (2010) argue that liberals and conservatives are both value driven but the order of priority of the values is different. For liberals, openness, compassion and equality are uppermost, while conservatives are more concerned about order, tradition and reliability“. (my emphasis)

In other words, authoritarianism in this context doesn’t have the same connotation as the authoritarianism ascribed to dictators and despots.

It has more to do with a rigidity of world-view, and this authoritarianism is expressed in different ways as compared to conservatives.

That is, while conservatives will agitate against abortion, art they deem shocking, non-heterosexual sexuality, etc., liberals also do so in similar ways: safe spaces, gender pronouns, microaggressions, etc.