Context: bart TODAY
After six years of growth, packed train cars and a booming population, in 2016 the Bay Area's Rapid Transit system (BART) saw a decline in riders. The biggest drop came outside commute hours and weekend trips, when trains aren't as frequent and service is viewed as unreliable.
Who takes BART?
BART serves as the connector for the region. Almost 430,000 people ride BART everyday, with the majority of people using the service to get to and from work, about 71% of riders. Many trips start or end in Downtown San Francisco at Embarcadero and Montgomery stations, over 180,000 trips each day.
Identifying the problem
While BART is rolling out new train cars, cleaning up stations, and building new stations, this will not solve problems for many passengers nor increase ridership for the current service. With competition from Lyft and Uber for regional travel, what else can BART do to make its service more reliable and convenient to those who would use it?
*Note that this is a personal study and not done for BART or the app BART Travel.
Talking with BART Riders
To better understand the needs of BART passengers, I interviewed ten riders, ranging from people who have taken BART a handful of times to people who use BART daily. While riders can reasonably depend on fast and reliable service during commute hours, they were frustrated by after-hours travel, weekend travel, or unexpected delays. If they could plan their trips better and make BARTing more convenient, they would be more inclined to take the mass-transit service.
The Rider's journey
I compiled these interviews into a spreadsheet, looking at why people take BART, when they ride BART, and how they planned their trips. From that, I was able to create the Bart Rider's journey (above), specifically examining the journey for off-hours when BART is not running regularly and riders have to decide whether to take BART or find some other means that more conveniently fits into their life. Life-to-BART-scheduling was an oft-identified pain point and was not addressed in the existing mobile app.
The App Right Now
BART Travel, the current Android mobile app, provides basic information for the seasoned rider. However, when compared to the Rider's journey, who needs to see location, schedule and information on delays at a glance, this app was only halfway there. While scheduling rides was a convenient feature, most riders don't plan far in advance of their trip and rarely use this feature. They want to fit BART into their life and not the other way around.
When I compared the current app to the rider's journey, it did not provide at-a-glance information about station location or an easy flow that leads into trip planning. Most riders don't schedule BART trips far in advance; instead, they simply glance at the home screen for the current schedule without looking for more. However, knowing about delays or alerts is a top priority for most riders, but there was not a helpful feature to actively alert riders.
A new app for riders
I used the rider's journey to design a new app. First and foremost, it needed to provide at-a-glance information: the location of the nearest station, the schedule of departing trains, and any information on delays. After sketching several iterations of the home screen, I settled on one that checked all of the rider's needs. Coincidentally, this iteration was similar to some ride-sharing or way-finding apps, providing an interesting opportunity to help BART to compete with the system that is reducing some of its ridership.
information finds the Passenger
System delays are a top pain point for most of the riders. While this app will not solve any unforeseen delays in the system, it's important to help the rider feel in control of her journey. Instead of swiping through multiple screens to find out if there's any alerts or delays in the system, the new app opens directly to this information. If there are no delays, then there is no warning. The rider also has the option to receive alerts without opening the app. Messaging is easy to turn on or off so the high-level BART rider can be more informed about their daily commute and can make informed decisions about her trip.
Wayfinding as a feature
Since a rider does not start her journey at the BART station, the new app opens with a map and a route to the nearest station, matching up to the needs of the rider according to the user flow map. The closest station is immediately identified, easily edited, and the rider can link to Google Maps to find how to get to the station. The map is paired with a schedule of departing trains from that station. With this simple opening screen, most of the BART riders needs are met.
While trip planning was not identified as a primary need by most riders, it is still a necessary feature, especially for the less-seasoned BART traveler. Creating a schedule easily flows from the opening screen, linking to station selection. The rider has multiple ways to choose a Start or an End station: with interactive BART system map that opens immediately when choosing a destination, by typing in the station name, or with a drop-down list. This caters to all levels of BART riders, and provides utility from the transit map.
Putting it to the test
Armed with the new app, I went out to test it with BART riders. Comparing the old app to the new, the high-level BART riders talked about how knowing about delays right away helps them feel in-control of their journey. The majority commented how it felt like this new app made BART feel like an elite experience, and some even discussed how they were more likely to take BART because it felt like they knew how to get there and had a better sense of the time it takes to navigate.
While BART is a complex transit system, creating an app that provided riders with all of the information they wanted in one glance made them feel more in-control of their experience. Riding BART wasn't just a necessary and sometimes annoying experience, but the the app put it on-par with other travel solutions in the San Francisco Bay.