Pass fail? User experience starts before the stop.

I bought a 1-day pass. It works for exactly one day from the time you first use it. I bought a 3-day pass expecting it to work the same. I was wrong.

Montreal Transit UX

Update: Someone figured it out! (Or, they received a lot of complaints). As of July 2022, STM has updated the naming for the pass.

When thinking about the user experience in a transit system, we often think only about the experience: in transit vehicles, waiting on platforms, or waiting at stops.

At track level, one’s experience might be affected by lighting, noise, wayfinding choices, perceived safety, wait times, temperature1, and more.

Things are always looking up at STM.

Montreal may arguably have the best subway in in Canada,2 but, it’t not without its faults. Entirely underground, and with no efficient way for the heat to escape, the cars cannot have air conditioning.3

When comparing Montreal’s subway system to Toronto’s, one aspect gives Montreal an edge from a user’s perspective. Before beginning their journey, there are a variety of unlimited-travel passes available to visitors. The temporary versions of the passes are printed on-demand via in-station kiosks on paper with an embedded NFC chip.4


Using an in-station kiosk, I bought a 1-day pass. It works for exactly one day from the time you first use it.

During a later part of my visit, I quickly bought a 3-day pass from a kiosk expecting it to work for exactly three days from the time of first use.

This was not the case.

Instead, the three-day pass follows a different timing convention – 3 consecutive calendar days rather than total duration from first use.

As it appeared on the web

As it appeared on the web

I had no reason to believe that the two transit passes would adhere to different timing conventions. This is the type of misunderstanding that happens once and you then adjust your understanding. However, it had an important effect on my experience of the wayfinding of the space.

It made me question any other basic assumption I made.

If you begin by making users doubt their basic assumptions about how they understand the basic information they’re given (in this case, the initial ticket purchase), they then lose confidence in all other information they encounter along their journey.

You are introducing information uncertainty.

The journey starts before the stop

The fare purchase is one of the first experiences one has in any transit system — especially for first-time users, visitors, or occasional users. It’s also one of the first places to impart anxiety and doubt. Every fare system is different and has different quirks. A designer cannot always assume general knowledge gleaned from the individual’s previous transit experience.

The prelude to the actual journey holds a crucial role in forming the overall impression and efficacy of an urban transit systems.

In this case, the website attempts to clarify the timing structure of the pass by using second-level information. There’s no need to have a secondary description that clarifies the discrepancy in this case: just adjust the top-level information.

Its not just a name. It’s information.


Rename the pass? The simplest way to avoid that confusion would be to modify the top-level information. A “24-hour pass” and a “3-day pass” would be more immediately descriptive – if even only to suggest that they follow different timing conventions.

Align the timing conventions? This is probably a more difficult change as it could change how the tickets are assessed in the system. It would essentially be adding a whole new ticket.


The naming of the passes are likely seen as separate from information design or UX of the transit system. But these simple elements are important: the line between these online and real-world interfaces is blurry. If we think of spaces as interfaces, it gives us new ways of framing and solving problems.

A question arises: where does the experience of an urban space begin and end?


As of July 2022, it appears that (partly as a result of a reevaluation after the addition of new REM trains to the system) the pass name has been updated.

The top-level naming convention has been updated! We’re moving forward.

Things are looking up.

  1. Sometimes the experience at track-level can be the result of engineers/designers not predicting the heat buildup over the course of a hundred years!

    When much of central London’s Tube network opened in the early 1900s, temperatures in tunnels and at stations were recorded at around 14C. But with nearly 80 per cent of energy dissipated by trains, people and related infrastructure seeping out into London’s clay, it’s been slowly heating up. So much so that the ambient temperature of the clay is now between 20C and 25C.” 

    Why is London’s Central line so hot? Science has the answer

  2. Things get more complicated when looking at Urban Mobility as a whole
  3. Though, this is likely a solvable, though expensive, engineering problem. Heat something else in the tunnel rather than the tunnel itself? Water’s a pretty good heat-sink.
  4. or maybe it’s an RFID chip? Or witchcraft?

Leave a Comment