Pay to Park

In 2015, the City of Seattle rolled out new Smart Parking Pay Stations. The new pay stations were advertised to provide faster credit card transaction, a higher level of customer service, and allow the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to wirelessly monitor the stations and change parking rates. All of those functions seemed well and good except for the basic usability of the machine.

The image below is of the user interface of the Smart Parking Pay Station. When I first started using this machine, I put my credit card into the machine and then immediately pressed the “check mark” button. Immediately, a parking receipt was printed with 3 minutes of parking time. I didn’t want just 3 minutes of parking. I had to then put my credit card in again to figure out that the “+” and “-” buttons were used to increase and decrease the paid parking time. It seemed awkward to me that the “+” was on the left and the “-” was on the right. Intuitively, time increases to the right and decreases to the left. Think of a timeline.


City of Seattle – Smart Parking Pay Station


I wondered whether other people had the same frustration as I did when using this machine. Also, were these machines ever piloted and tested with human users first before being rolled out to the entire City?

The Seattle Department of Transportation designs and creates a number of human touch points within our regional transportation system including parking stations, bike racks, bus payment machines, Orca Card re-fill stations, transportation maps, bike lanes, and bus stops, just to name a few.

SDOT should implement a Human Centered Design Division with the goal of providing the most user-friendly and intuitive transportation system in the country. This could be accomplished by providing human piloting, testing, and refinement feedback for all human touch points in the transportation system. This user feedback loop will help to constantly improve, for example, the next iteration of parking pay stations.


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