Observation : EZPASS


2013-09-30 09.55.17

This weekend, I had to do a fair amount of traveling to and from Meadville, PA where I had to use my E-ZPass to get through the toll stations in New York and Pennsylvania (that’s right NJ, we can get in and out of your state without paying!). The E-ZPass is a great luxury as if you have one: you don’t have to pay with cash at the toll booths, you get charged later, and you don’t have to stop your car (maybe slowed down). All you have to do is have the pass placed on the dashboard of your car and drive through the toll booth gate – should take no longer than a 20 seconds, unless there is a line for the toll booth, you have a low account balance, or your pass isn’t working.  Nevertheless, the E-ZPass is your electronic ticket that will get you to your destination with limited interactions with the toll booth and it’s operators. In my own experience and watching other cars go through the E-ZPass lane, it is clear that the luxury of this pass does not hinder our abilities to experience doubt and uncertainty about the device and service that users pay for. I observed several instances where cars would pull to a complete stop in front of the E-ZPass sensor and wait for it’s approval before moving onward. Granted there are some toll booths that require a bar to be raised in order for one to pass through but when there is no bar, there is a level of uncertainty and deduced speed that goes with this interaction  – even though this is suppose to speed up the toll process.

I think that since this device’s only responses are telling the driver that the toll was paid, charging the driver’s account, and notifying the toll booth that this is a legitimate registered driver, it might be too laid back of an experience that doesn’t encourage  speedier interactions between the driver, the pass, and the toll booth. If there was more of an incentive for more drivers to use the E-ZPass, such as every time you drive your car and E-ZPass through a toll, the driver’s GPS receives a  traffic update on the roads ahead, or if E-ZPasses revealed information about toll booth traffic  – such as which is the quickest lane to travel in  or statuses about upcoming toll booths – E-ZPasses would become a more interactive incentive product. Less focus on getting through the toll booth and more focus on the reward you will receive for getting through the toll booth. Since this device is so easy to use and doesn’t require much from the user other than driving your car through the booth, it is not surprising that users second guess a supposedly stress free experience.

In the reading, Norman talks about visible clues to help the user understand the functionality of the product; at the toll booths there are large signs with the words “E-ZPass” on it, that are suppose to  directing drivers to the proper toll booth lane.


For a novice driver or someone unfamiliar with the E-ZPass system, there aren’t any graphic instructions at the toll booth telling the driver how to approach the booth with their E-ZPass. Since this is on the highway, it is expected that transportation authorities wouldn’t want to have to much signage on the roads but nevertheless if the device itself either announced directions for the driver approaching the booth, encouraged the driver not to slow down,  or displayed directional LED lights for the driver to follow, I think that E-ZPasses would become more time efficient devices to the toll booth experience.

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