shamu mockup.jpg

Transit interaction

Reimagining the process of paying for the bus with a focus on user experience.



Improving the experience of riding the bus

Mass transit is a defining characteristic of the modern city. World cities feature world-class transit systems with high ridership. As Seattle moves towards a sustainable transportation future, there is ample opportunity for forward-thinking design.

Through design, we have the opportunity to simultaneously increase accessibility and reduce friction, ideally in service of a greater good. Here, I approached one major point of friction inherent to riding the bus—payment—and redesigned it to make it both easier and more accessible.


This screen is active when the user boards the bus before their fare is confirmed.

Friction and opportunity

There are several points of friction involved in riding the bus, including scheduling, routing, and payment. As it stands, paying for the bus using non-cash payment is not intuitive enough.

As consumers move further and further away from carrying and using cash for their daily expenses, transit needs to keep up and meet users where they actually are. A 2017 study showed that over 50% of consumers would like to be able to use their NFC-enabled smartphones to pay for transit, and that number continues to increase.

The opportunity: craft a solution for contactless bus payment that takes the guesswork out of paying for the bus (and, ideally, adds some beauty to the process). 



Secondary research

Part of my research process was to conduct secondary research and a competitive analysis to understand the current state of digital transit systems, and see if any agencies were supplementing their traditional systems with contactless, phone-based, or accessibility-focused services.

Contactless systems like Pasmo and LA County Tap Card: Japan uses a contactless system that attempts to integrate itself more into users’ lives. It can be used on all forms of transit—trains, buses, metro, and taxis—and it can also be used to go shopping at any stores that accept contactless payment.

Supplementary apps such as Ridescout and OneBusAway: these are two of many services designed to make using transit systems easier, by giving users more insight into different routes, scheduling, and real-time location info. Users love the real-time GPS info, when it updates accurately.

Digital payment services, like Token Transit and TriMet are among several solutions that enable riders to purchase tickets digitally and then show them to the driver as they board the bus. They offer several advantages over traditional tickets—allowing users to use credit cards precludes the need for cash, and digital tickets makes keeping track of tickets and transfers much easier. A quick survey of reviews for these services shows that pain points include reliability, difficulty selecting the correct ticket, and accidentally using multiple tickets.



I sketched out many different ideas as to how to make the act of riding the bus both more accessible and more intuitive. These ideas included:

  • an honor system

  • bill-by-mail

  • a talking bus/reader

  • in-ear wearable

  • gesture-based payment

  • seating reservations

  • a pay-before-boarding service.


Experience principles

I grouped the ideas into four categories as they emerged: confusion reduction, interactivity, alternative payment methods, and phone-based solutions. The design direction I decided to pursue pulls from all four principles—using an interactive, simplified, app-based payment solution that utilizes haptic, audio, and visual feedback.

High-tech ideation using advanced non-screen-based medium



Steve Brule, 42 years old, blind postal worker
Steve uses King County Metro and Sound Transit to get to work, home, and to visit friends 2–3 days a week. Steve is blind and used to pay with all change, but now uses an ORCA card, which he can reload from his computer. Steve likes podcasts, listening to music, reading, and talking on the phone with his friends while on the bus and train.

Nina Kraviz, 20 years old, student
Nina uses the bus mainly to get to school when she’s too lazy to walk or it’s raining. She doesn’t really like it. Although she does have a monthly pass that she doesn’t have to worry about reloading, she sometimes forgets it and so has to pay cash for the bus or not ride.


Sketches and wireframes

Initial physical and digital ideation. User testing led to a simplification of features and high contrast in the final design.

Primary interaction

  1. The user boards the bus and enters payment mode.

  2. Graphics, sounds, and haptic feedback make it clear when communication with the Orca reader (Metro's wireless on-bus payment kiosk as well as the inspiration for the name Shamu) has been made and fare has been paid.

  3. User's digital wallet and transfer time are updated.


Prototype and user testing

 Initial prototype includes a super simple interface with a focus on payment, treating the entire app like a digital ticket. This decision was made to mitigate potential friction in choosing the correct ticket or pass.

User testing showed that this can actually be confusing to some riders—when the first thing they see says “PAY”, users can be unsure what exactly they’re paying for. There is also no reason to split up all of the payment/transfer data into 3 separate screens.

Other users stated a desire for a ticket book, profile, or history / frequently used routes page, as well as tie-in with location-based services like OneBusAway and Google Maps.