Interaction Design

Do User Research Before Investing in Expensive Designs

A lesson in user research. BART's new fare gates are not well designed. The takeaway. Completing user research before product launch could have saved both money and time.

Case Study: Bay Area Rapid Transit  (BART)

The Challenge

Create new fare gates to limit increased instances of fare evasions.


The Outcome

New gates were found to be ineffective at stopping fare evasions. Alternative design suggested.


The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) estimates lost revenue between $15 - $25 million each year do to fare evasions. In parallel, there have been increased calls from paying passengers to address the problem. In its 2019 budget BART lists fare evasions as the number one issue affecting "quality of life" for its transit system. BART has seen a 200% increase in fare evasion citations between 2017 - 2018. BART has recently begun to install new fare guards and to add more BART police to curb this issue. 


BART recently installed new fare gates at a handful of stations to address this problem. Through my own field research and user -interviews I found the gates to be ineffective, 

My Role

I am currently enrolled in IDEO's Advanced Design Thinking certificate program. The certificate consists of several courses, and this project is part of the course on user experience research called "Insight for Innovation".  The project is broken down into the four skills below.



You Have to See It to Believe It


  • 16 people evaded fare in 15 minutes

  • 10 people hit by the new gates

  • New gates have high cost and minimal impact

With over 400,000 riders passing through fare gates on any given day, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) sees another 22,000 slip through the gates without paying every day.


BART paid $740,000 in 2018 to increase security officers and issued over 6,000 tickets. Of these, a little less than 100 were paid. One new solution has been to install taller fare gates to keep the fare evaders at bay.

After observing the new fare gates in action it became clear that they do not work. There was a steady stream of people slipping through gates, and a considerable amount of chaos. People hesitated, got hit, and generally seemed frustrated and confused. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle saw 92 people enter without a ticket in 90 minutes. I saw 16 people in 15 minutes before BART security asked me to leave.

These new gates are expensive and do not work. Another design is necessary if this new plan is going to work.


Learning from Extremes


We used a variety of extremes to develop personas for our research plan. I conducted a series of  "guerilla-style" user-interviews in the field by approaching people that fit my extremes who were navigating the system. A few key takeaways came out of these interviews.

Riders were afraid of getting hit, and they often were. They were frustrated by the tall gates, and often got caught as they opened at different times.


The gates slowed down commuters, but not fare evasions.







Connecting the Dots 

After careful observation, user interviews, and a thematic analysis of data the results are clear. BART's new fare gates are not effective.

The gates caused confusion, frustration, and anxiety among riders. This slowed down commute but did relatively little to slow down fare evasions.

Empathy & Insight


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© 2019 by Zayin Cabot, Ph.D.