How might we make a regular commuter’s journey into a subway station smoother?


User research, Service design, Information architecture, UX design, Graphic design


For our service design project, we decided to address a very specific area in the NYC subway system - the entrance to its stations. The seasoned NYC commuter optimizes her routine around speed: she leaves little buffer time in her routine from home to subway to work and back. At times, the subway system throws a spanner in the works: her Metrocard has insufficient balance, and the need to approach the ticket kiosk causes significant delays. We proposed a comprehensive plan to increase awareness of the MTA’s EasyPay Xpress plan, to present the information about the plan in a more digestible manner, and to increase the appeal of the plan itself.


3 weeks


Led design process, conducted ethnographic research. Designed publicity materials and website prototype.


Shane Strassberg, Eli Lee


The Problem

Entering subway stations in NYC can be inefficient for the seasoned commuter.

The seasoned commuter makes up a large proportion of NYC subway ridership, and optimizes her journey from home through subway to work for speed and efficiency. It isn't difficult to imagine why: according to the city Comptroller, New Yorkers average the highest amount of time spent commuting weekly compared to workers in other major cities.

Every little delay along this journey triggers great frustration for this commuter. The entrance to the subway station is one place where such delays occur. The rider might forget her card balance and suffer "turnstile groin" when the card shows insufficient fare. When she approaches the ticket machines to refill her card, she has to endure long lines, dirty touch screens, and frustrating software.

“It makes me panic, because you’re trying to cut things as close as you can, and you know you’re going to be late somewhere you promised to be.”

— A regular commuter on unexpected delays, in a 2015 NY Times article.

For other types of subway riders (e.g. tourists, the disabled) subway travel planning includes buffer time for figuring out the system. That isn't the case for the seasoned commuter: she has a whole routine that minimizes her traveling time from door to door, so each delay is especially frustrating.

The Process

Focus was key. Service design can be expansive, so it was important to keep the audience and problem scope narrow.

We decided early in the process to narrow our focus to the topic of access to subway stations. We did a quick exercise where we identified several key personas among NYC subway riders: the regular commuter, the irregular commuter, the tourist, the disabled, and the rider with bulky items. From this list, we picked the regular commuter as our key target audience, since this is the persona most likely to get frustrated by the inefficiency of station access.

Mapping out user journeys for 5 different rider personas.

What we found was that the regular commuter has a unique option that other commuters do not have: the EasyPay Xpress metrocard, a card that autorefills itself. This card has the potential to drastically improve the entrance experience of regular commuters: commuters no longer have to see "Insufficient Fare" alerts when they forget about their card balance, and no longer need to deal with the cumbersome ticket kiosk. Our aim then shifted to maximizing the potential of EasyPay Xpress to help regular commuters.

Shane and I then conducted further ethnographic research, specifically by testing out the application process for the EasyPay Xpress card ourselves. We also conducted a survey of 37 New Yorkers, asking them whether they were familiar with the EasyPay Xpress plans, and if they were using this card.

Conducting a thorough heuristic evaluation of the application website.

Drawing upon our experiences in the research above, we mapped out the entire user journey for an individual applying for the EasyPay Xpress card. We then held a brainstorm session to identify possible interventions.

Mapping the touchpoints in the application process for EasyPay Xpress.

The Design

We proposed a comprehensive plan to raise awareness of EasyPay, convey key information better, and increase the appeal of the service.

We found that most of our suggested interventions fell under three buckets: raising awareness, displaying information better, and increasing service appeal. Each set of interventions could contribute to an increase in adoption of EasyPay Xpress: however, we believe that all three aspects need attention if the MTA is to achieve increased long-term adoption and satisfaction amongst seasoned commuters.


Raising Awareness

The first part of our service design intervention is an expansive campaign to raise awareness of the EasyPay Xpress metrocard: we felt that the card addressed enough problem spaces as is that raising awareness would be the immediate solution to improving the experiences of seasoned commuters. Our suggestions spanned a wide range of touch points. Key suggestions include:

  • Redesigning the EasyPay poster and flyer
  • Shortening the website URL and rebranding the plan to "EasyPay"
  • Displaying this material at kiosks where regular commuters experience the most frustration
  • Redirecting commuters to the website instead of to a station agent Displaying interactive ads on the MTA's touchscreen kiosks
  • We also produced a range of mockups to demonstrate how this would look in a real-world scenario

Advertising on the MTA's touchscreen kiosks.

Postering at kiosks,  where regular commuters experience the most frustration.

We also recommended having a "blitz week" where employees would hand out flyers at the turnstiles.

Displaying the Information Better

The second phase of our proposal focuses on making the information about the EasyPay plan easily understandable for all commuters who are interested in it. Here, we recommended three key interventions:

  • Training station agents with short pitches on the plan
  • Rewriting copy on the publicity material so the value proposition of the plan is immediately clear
  • Redesigning the website

Redesigning the front page to reduce the information overload and increase the appeal of the site.

Redesigning the account summary to surface quick announcements, and condense necessary information into a quick overview.

Increasing the Appeal of the Plan

Raising awareness and making plan information clearer would both be of limited effectiveness if the plan itself is not appealing to commuters. For the third part of our proposal, we recommended several interventions to increase the appeal of the plan. These include:

  • Improving the card design to make it a status symbol for the "true New Yorker"
  • Lowering the monthly cost of the Unlimited Plan to $110 from $116.50
  • Giving riders the option to easily terminate, suspend, or switch their plan
  • Piloting a new tap-and-go key fob format for a long-term overhaul of the subway card system

Next Steps

The recent publicity around EasyPay Xpress might signal the MTA's willingness to hear suggestions around the service.

The MTA has recently been publicizing the EasyPay Xpress plan with posters in the subway stations, and flyers at the station agent booths. We believe this recent activity means the MTA has recognized the value of the EasyPay Xpress both to commuters as well as to the MTA's top line.

We plan on packaging all our recommendations into a proposal, and looking for ways to submit this for the MTA to review.