A tale of two tickets
Lessons in UX design from two different parking tickets
I unfortunately get a lot of parking tickets. However, I had never thought about the design work that goes into parking tickets until I got two tickets in two different cities.
I did some analysis of the differences between the two physical tickets, as well as the quality of the two tickets’ payment processes.
At first glance San Jose’s ticket is far friendlier. Including the rising sun emblem at the top and opting for our iconic blue and gold color palette makes this ticket quite approachable. The splashes of red and the bold black bars make the Santa Cruz ticket a far more serious affair. Santa Cruz does include its logo in faint gray behind the pertinent information but I barely noticed it.
San Jose’s is also smaller and contains less unnecessary white space and information. Santa Cruz uses more space to convey the same information and even lists the parking violation two separate times.
I do enjoy Santa Cruz’s decision to include a QR code on their tickets. I’ve been a fan for a long time of these codes' ability to bridge the gap between physical and digital realms. This improvement in the parking ticket’s user experience probably goes unnoticed by most citizens but I appreciate the consideration.
The two cities made different material choices with their parking tickets. Santa Cruz’s citations are printed on paper while San Jose’s are printed on lightweight plastic. Plastic allows the tickets to withstand the elements without need of additional protection. It’s difficult for me to calculate whether the environmental cost of printing on plastic in the first place outweighs the cost of putting paper tickets in plastic bags.
As you can see, San Jose’s plastic ticket doesn’t tear. It stretches and warps but remains in one piece. I was surprised at the strength of this lightweight plastic. Try as I might, I couldn’t come close to harming it. Santa Cruz’s paper ticket does tear. No surprises there. I’m starting to wonder if that extra $2 that San Jose charged goes into printing the tickets on this robust material.
One advantage of the paper appears to be clearer printing. The lines are as crisp as you could ever want on Santa Cruz’s ticket. San Jose’s ticket is a bit harder to read. The printers issued to the parking officers clearly aren’t as powerful as the ones used to print the initial template. This can lead to some of the information being indistinct or filled with gaps.
Another advantage of paper is that you could burn your ticket in protest and post it online for the world to see. But that’s probably not a concern that the city has in mind.
Speaking of the internet…
In this department, San Jose has Santa Cruz beat by a long shot.
The pticket San Jose site takes about 6 screens in total. You simply choose your citation off a list, scroll past the legal disclosures, and enter your payment info. Done.
Santa Cruz’s site, on the other hand, is kind of a mess.
You first have to go to the city website where you choose parker tickets off of a list of other payment types. You’re then redirected to a different site that let’s you view your citation.
This section also includes photos Santa Cruz’s parking patrol officer took of my vehicle parked improperly. Whether this is to remind me what my car looks like or to verify that they had indeed found a delinquent vehicle is unclear at this point.
Click the pay button and it takes you to another screen with another button which opens up an ugly modal window that tells you you are being redirected again.
After being redirected you enter your payment info on this site. You have to confirm the payment three times for some reason. Then it gives you a meaningless string of numbers to identify your payment and you click the button again. Finally you’re done.
Nobody likes parking tickets. Its an awful way to collect revenue from citizens. It takes advantage of a terrible power dynamic between the people who own the streets and the people who use them out of necessity.
Santa Cruz’s clunky payment process made the whole experience of getting the ticket even worse.
The least that cities can do is make the payment process as painless as possible.
Or just let people park for free. That would would be fine too.