by Marius

Usability worth 115 million dollars?

When we make web sites and mobile apps we always start with the user interface and the goal is always making the system easy to use and understand. So when I encounter poorly designed user interfaces and bad usability it always irritates me a bit. But when you’ve paid for something yourself its worse and even more when the government is involved which is the case for the ticket system for the Oslo Metro that the government owned company Ruter AS is behind. We pay for this through taxes and ticket fees and as you are about to discover we both pay a high price and what we get is a sample of how not to do it.

So how many steps would you expect as necessary to buy a single adult ticket? Well, actually 0 since this should’ve been automatically registered and paid with an app. But since they have spent 12 years planning (yes, it is true…. More on this later) you can’t expect them to have the latest and best. So with a kiosk-solution I would say 2 steps including payment. Step one would be to click on “Single Adult” and then insert card or money. So how many steps is it here? Here we go:

Step 1: Decide if you have a travelcard or not:


Step 2: Decide type of ticket:


Step 3: Decide if you want to pay with coins or card:


Step 4: Decide if you want a receipt or not:


Step 5: Pay:


That’s a lot of unnecessary steps when the tube leaves in 30 seconds and you’re off to an important meeting! Actually in the old system this “new” ticket system replaces it was only 2 steps so they have actually made a worse system.

So since this system clearly is in its first early version surely this project must have been started just recently? They must have gotten these ticket boxes up rapidly probably within a few weeks? Right? No, what makes this more astonishing is that they started planning this system back in 2000 and that was after having already spendt around 25 million dollars on a different system that turned out to be a fiasko. On the “new” ticket system they have now spent additionally 90 million dollars… Yes, you calculated right. They’ve spent in total 115 million dollars of us tax payer’s money. The waste of money here is beyond apprehension.
But the question here is how this is possible? Surely there are involved hundreds of people in this project, the money has to be spent somewhere. And they must be meeting up from time to time to discuss. So how can people sit together and agree on this? Are there really no-one that managed to say “Hey! Wait, maybe most people won’t be interested in 5 decisions while buying a ticket! Maybe they just want the ticket??” But it seems no-one raised that question.

So are the people behind this scandal sacked and re-educated to something they have talent for? Are they held responsible for squandering away our money? Well, this scandal is well known as the “ticket-scandal” and there’s been media attention but it seems the whole thing was just quieted down. On the political side Peter N. Myhre (Progress(!) Party) and Michael Tetzschner (Conservative Party) seems to be named as responsible. Mr. Myhre elegantly sneaked away by resigning from his position in Oslo city council because he had to join the national election campaign. Mr. Tetzschner also seem to slipped away. I also highly doubt  that those responsible in Ruter did get any reaction.

Well, politics and responsibilities aside: The bottom line is that when you’re making a system with a user interface that is actually going to be used by human beings you need to contact people that actually know how to make those system. Steve Jobs was good at it. We’re also quite good at it so Ruter: please, next time contact us and since it is our money too we can give you some advice for free.

  • Andreas

    Not to mention one of the biggest flaws of all: for the first year you were not able to buy two separate tickets using the same credit card without waiting several minutes between each purchase – or else you received a message saying IT MIGHT BE A DUPLICATE TRANSACTION!!

    So if you were a family on tour in Oslo, you had to make sure you brought two separate VISA cards for the parents, a MasterCard for one kid and some coins for the other.

    Thanks, Ruter. It was really worth waiting for.