Interactive Technology in Public: Citi Bike

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Citi Bike is a bicycle sharing system that serves parts of New York City, with 330 stations and 6,000 bikes. I picked this service as an interactive technology in public, because I like how the interaction process with the station machine is as a part of a larger system all across the city. I observed the station located in Washington Pl & Broadway.

Each station is composed by a touchscreen kiosk, a map of the service area and surrounding neighborhood, and a docking system that releases bikes for rental with a card or key. Once you swipe your credit card in the kiosk, you receive a ride code. Then you have 5 minutes to enter your code at the docking system to unlock the bike.

Map, kiosk and docking system. Red and yellow lights indicate the bike isn’t properly locked.
pcom-citi3The process of getting a bike.

My main assumption was that the steps were simple and intuitive enough so that anyone could just swipe their card, grab a bike and start riding. After watching some people using the machine, I noticed most of them had no problem at all, but I could see some problems in the interaction with some people with both the kiosk and the docking system.

The kiosk has a a digital interface with a touchscreen similar to a MetroCard vending machine, where you have to swipe your card each time you want to use the system. I could see people struggling with the machine for more than five minutes. I used the system myself and could see that software is slow and it has a lot of steps to go through:

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The docking system has even more flaws. Many of the slots for bikes were broken and people had to try many times before actually getting one. Returning the bike seems even harder. I saw many people pushing a lot of times in many different slots to park the bike correctly. I’d estimate it takes an average of 2 tries per person.

When I got back from the observation I did some research. It turns out that if you register online you get a key and can skip the whole kiosk/touchscreen part. Also, there is an app showing you where to find bikes. These features can save you a lot of time.

pcom-citi5Citi Bike extra features: Key and mobile app

The Citi Bike system is in my opinion a good example of interactive technology that takes advantage of a digital and a physical interface –touchscreen and docking system- in order to provide a good service that connects the different stations around New York City through biking. The kiosk, the docking system and the bicycle designs are appealing. The problem is that the stations need a lot of maintenance and improvements to make the process easier to understand and to use. The graphics in the digital interface could be updated to something more contemporary and intuitive, as people not familiar with the interface seemed to have a hard time trying to understand the different steps in the process. It is a system that you need to learn how to use, making it far better to use its on-line counterpart to get the best from the system.

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