If You Want to Go There, You Have to Have Gone There Before

One frustration that works against more people making new transportation choices is that the information being provided is directed at insiders--regulars--and is either not helpful or outright confusing to newbies.

I had this experience last summer on a trip to New York City. It has always been an interest of mine to ride on the Staten Island Ferry, just for the experience. The opportunity presented itself when I coordinated a drop off of my daughter and another pre-teen girl to a family in New York City, who would then take them to a camp out on Long Island. Part of the logistics included seeing The Lion King in New York, which was terrific.

The plan was to have the other girl's father drive us to the ferry; we would take the ferry to Manhattan and the subway up to the theater where we would meet our friends. All well and good.
We found the ferry terminal without incident and were pleased to find a subway card machine at the terminal, so that we could get our farecards before we boarded--a nice convenience. After our 20-minute wait we hear announced, "Now boarding: the 12:30 ferry to Whitehall at dock number 2." Whitehall? I've never heard of Whitehall. Where's that? I glance around the waiting area and see throngs of people heading over to board and about 10 others like me with uncertain looks on their faces. My daughter, with an anxious tone in her voice asks, "Are we getting on the right boat, Daddy?" Now I'm pretty sure that the Staten Island Ferry just runs between Staten Island and Manhattan, but I'm not 100% certain of that--especially right then. I look all around for some clue about Whitehall and finally spot on the large schedule board the words "(Whitehall Terminal)" in parentheses. My anxiety level goes down, we get on the boat and everything goes smoothly from then on.

Now I don't think that the ferry is deliberately trying to confuse passengers or create angst, but that was the unintended consequence of the announcement for me and a dozen others (and probably almost every trip for at least a couple of new riders). The "insiders" do not need anything more than, "12:30 ferry now boarding." We newbies would benefit from something like, "The 12:30 ferry to Manhattan now boarding." Mentioning Whitehall provides no useful travel information to anyone: insiders already know where the ferry is going and we rookies are only confused by it. It also sends a signal--not so much that we newbies are not welcome--but that they just haven't given any consideration to thinking about us.
Those who provide transportation services need to constantly be putting themselves in the shoes of a brand-new user and trying to forget everything they already know. How can they make that experience simpler and the information clear and useful to that brand-new user?
For more on transportation on Staten Island, they have their own blog here.

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