Bad MUNI user experience works in my favor

I am a lazy San Franciscan. I live 10 blocks uphill from the building where I work, so it’s easy to walk downhill to work, but I take the bus uphill on the way home. Since I don’t go far and my bus is very crowded, I try to sit as close to the back door as a can so I can squeeze out without bumping too many people. From this position, I have a great view of the painful usability of the door mechanisms on the buses.

Since the bus driver does not necessarily open the back doors at every stop, there is a button next to the doors on the outside of the bus that will open the door. The button looks like this:

MUNI back door bus button

What most people don’t understand is that you have to hold down the button until the door opens.

On the style of bus I take, there is a pressure sensor built in to the step inside the bus leading down to the back door, which opens the door when you step down on it (which also isn’t great user experience, but that’s another story). I assume that when the buttons were installed, they were configured so that they would work the same way as the pressure sensor in the step. While it makes sense that you would need to keep standing on the step for a moment to open the door, that’s not a great user experience for a button.

Few people understand that they need to hold down the button to open the doors. Over the course of my 10 block bus ride, I usually see many people frantically pressing the button repeatedly, as though it were an unresponsive elevator button. It’s a perfectly reasonable response, considering how much the bus button looks like an elevator button.

Sadly, the bad design works in my favor. When people fail to open the doors from outside, the bus is able to leave a bit faster. Still, I feel a little guilty about benefiting from bad user experience.

Until MUNI posts instructions next to the button, I’ve resolved not to worry about it. If the bus isn’t crowded and I’m standing within a step of the door, I’ll open it for someone who wants to get on, but I won’t go out of my way to make a packed bus even more packed. If there’s anything San Francisco buses don’t need, it’s more confused riders.

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