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Lisa Min
Lisa Min

Akendi Alumnus

GO Train – An Experience Review

I’ve recently relocated outside of the Greater Toronto Area and find myself commuting into Toronto on the GO Train quite frequently.

In the early days, when I was first learning how the whole system works, I made my fair share of user errors; these errors were sometimes difficult to recover from.  For example, if you accidently board the wrong train, it could take you an hour or two to recover from that mistake.  Quite unfortunately, this has happened to me (and others I know) and I can assure you, it is not a pleasant experience.

Now that I’m an experienced user of the GO Transit system, I have learned how to avoid making errors but for a new user, the experience may not be as seamless.  So what are some of the design flaws of the GO Train System?  I’ve shared a few of them below:

The Quiet Zone

Violates Design Heuristics: Recognition, Efficient, and Freedom

When GO Transit first introduced the Quiet Zone, I was excited.  It’s great to be able to read or work in silence without having the distraction of chatty neighbours.  Since its launch, I’ve found that the quiet zones are not always quiet; while most daily commuters are aware of the time frame and location of these zones, most ‘occasional’ riders often miss the memo.  As a result, I’ve witnessed some interesting interactions between strangers explaining (and sometimes even arguing) the quiet zone ‘rules’.

Quiet zone

As far as I can tell, these signs (see photo above) are the only indication a rider has of what a Quiet Zone is and when it’s in effect. There are a few minor problems with this sign:  it’s not clear what hours are defined as rush hour, nor does the sign point users to where they might be able to find that information. If I wanted to get really particular, it’s not clear either what is meant by ‘Quiet Zone’; does that mean complete silence? Can I take a phone call if I whisper?  Is it ok if I ask the person who is playing music really loudly using earphones to turn it down?  Where to find out this information isn’t obvious to me either.  Finally, the placements of these signs are not ideal. If riders are seated directly in front of the sign; there is no way to see when the Quiet Zone is in effect as the bottom half of the sign becomes hidden by seated riders.

Having said all this, most people figure it out and having noisy neighbours in the quiet zone isn’t a serious error but rather a minor annoyance.

GO Train Line Labels

Violates Design Heuristics: Recognition, Freedom, and Limit Learning

I have a friend who rarely rides the GO Train and recently asked me: “Do Lakeshore West trains ever travel in an eastward direction?”  As a frequent rider of the GO Train, I had to stop for a second to think how it would be possible for a new rider to think this wouldn’t be possible.  The issue here is with the language used for the line labels.  Looking closely at the train lines below, the Lakeshore line appears to be the only one that uses a direction in the title (east or west) rather than the end point (by city), so it seems entirely fair for my friend to be perplexed.

Go Train Lines

The issue here is not only that the line label includes a direction but also that there are two Lakeshore lines.  Again, this may not be an issue for regular patrons but is likely confusing for new customers.

The Danger of Express Trains

Violates Design Heuristics: Recognition, Efficiency, Error Guidance, and Limit Learning

This is the most serious of the issues identified in this blog post as an error made reading these signs results in a very difficult and stressful error recovery.  Have a look at the sign below:

Go Train sign

Are you able to tell me which of the trains above are an express train? (An express train skips certain stops to make it a faster commute for those who live further outside of the city).  It’s pretty difficult to identify, isn’t it?  In fact, you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at a static image of this sign.  The only way to know is by waiting for the ‘Destination’ stops to cycle through completely.

If you are unfamiliar with this paradigm and you’re in a hurry, you may glance up at the screen, head to the corresponding track, and find yourself on a train that is not going stop at your station.  I’ve done this not once, but twice, and I can attest to how difficult and stressful it is to recover from this error.

First, you are on a train that skips your station for which you’ve already paid a fair (the Presto system has a set of its own issues but I’ll save that for a separate blog post), so you’re really hoping you don’t get checked by the GO Train police or you’ll find yourself talking your way out of a fine.  Second, when you get off at the first possible stop, you have to wait to catch a train traveling in the opposite direction that you hope will stop where you need it to.

In addition to the trouble of now running late, you also have to contemplate whether you should buy another fair to avoid the stress of getting checked and fined on your way back.  Yikes.

Overall, the GO Train system is good but it’s not perfect. As a regular patron, I’d love to see some improvements made to the user experience of the overall system.

UX design is not only applied to software applications, it should be rooted in end-to-end user and customer experience design.

Lisa Min
Lisa Min

Akendi Alumnus

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As an infrequent go-train user, I find the validation system to be the most confusing. There are no clear directions on where, when and how to validate a ticket. I’m always nervous about it. On their website they refer to it as the “ticket canceling machine”… Very confusing!

Ah, Presto cards and validation. I remember when they were just rolled out, you had to ‘activate’ your card by making a phone call. The catch, you had to also use your card to pay a fare within 24 hours after the call, but not sooner than in 1 hour – otherwise it would not ‘activate’. Thankfully, they made it much less painful several months after.

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