CTA Redesign: A study on Increasing Ridership and User Comfort


To increase ridership on the CTA through digital means.

Role(s) [Team of 3]

Lead UI Designer | Lead User Testing Moderator | UX Researcher | Information Architect and Strategist


  • CTA recognizes that if they increase the ridership, everyone wins — residents, visitors, businesses, and the city itself.
  • With a better overall system, they’ll receive bigger budget to make even further improvements, perform more frequent maintenance, and keep their workers happy.
  • However, ridership is not close to where it could be.
  • While the problem is large and multi-faceted, CTA believes that improving their digital offering via their website or digital apps could lead to quick-win improvements.

Discovery & Research

My team and I conducted a few types of research methods to get down to the bottom of users’ problems with their experience using the CTA, and why they aren’t riding more.

Google Survey

We began by creating and sending out a google survey focusing on the physical aspect of riding the CTA, and the digital experience users have when navigating the transit system with mobile applications. We discovered a lack of awareness of the official transit app, and concerns about safety and timing.

We asked what people didn’t enjoy about the CTA in an open ended question, these were some responses:

“It’s crowded and overwhelming sometimes. […] and is dangerous at night (esp for ladies)”
“[…] if the tracker is off and leads me to miss the bus because the arrival time changed dramatically.”
“delays/gross men”

Competitive Analysis

We also researched the CTA’s official mobile app, the Ventra app, the CTA’s tracking websites, highly rated third party transit apps and apps user’s told us they use and trust; as well as other large cities transit systems, such and New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Contextual Inquiries

The team took to the streets to talk to and observe real CTA users. We asked them how they felt about the CTA, and we observed users interact with Ventra Kiosks and transit apps in real time.

In particular, we got amazing feed back from a CTA employee, and one interviewee who came back to tell me one of his very real concerns: the current inability to report problems in real time.

We also witnessed one user have no idea how to find the platform she was supposed to go to, saying:

“The sign doesn’t say what my phone says! Which stairs do I take?”

User Personas

After analyzing and synthesizing data from our initial research, we distilled all the information and traits into 3 User Personas to help us further focus our research.


After gathering all our research and analyzing all our data, we noticed a few things:

  • People don’t mind waiting as long as they know what time the bus/train is arriving
  • They want reliability
  • They need clear directions
  • Universal concern for safety
  • Users need a way to feel safe and need to be able to properly/accurately plan around public transit time

After an ideation session with our peers, we came up with a few solutions to fulfill the users needs for safety, timing, and awareness:

• Ladies Car — a car near the front/conductor designated for women and others who feel threatened

• Extended train service- additional routes that run later in the evening so users aren’t stuck after a certain hour

• Increase Police Patrol (especially evenings)

• Live User feeds- integrate live user feeds, from twitter, that let other users know in real time what is happening on the train or bus they are about to get one (such as delays or hazards)

• Emergency Button — a button in the app that users can hit to contact authorities and immediately and automatically submit photos, videos, and location information for use in investigations.

  • Step by step directions with photos — to aid users in knowing exactly where to reach their transit

But the physical solutions were out of our scope, leaving us with 3 solutions that fulfilled the business needs.

•Live User feeds
• Emergency Button
• Step by step directions with photos

Design Direction

Our analysis led us to 3 problems to solve for, and our ideation gave us the design direction to do so.


  • Emergency Action function (emergency & non-emergency)
  • Explain on-boarding steps

Control of Time

  • Real-Time updates & notifications (delays, reminders, next arrival, time to arrive at station)
  • Live Feeds from social media integrated into app (“Waze for transit”)
  • Step-by-step instrux with photos (Connect the dots in between instruction gaps )


  • Social Media Live Feeds/Interactivity/Bidirectional Communication

We also decided, based on business needs, to treat these solutions as new features in the existing Ventra app. It already allows for refilling your transit cards and accuracy in train schedules, it merely needed enhancements.

Sketching and Prototyping

We began putting thoughts to paper and visualizing what these enhancements would look like.

We took these initial sketches and turned them into low-fidelity wireframes in the Sketch App, and then created a prototype in Invision.

We then user tested and found:

  • Keeping the existing ventra menu/home and adding our featurs to the transit tracker page was too cluttered and confusing
  • People were scared to touch the emergency button because they didn’t know what it did/they thought it was real.
  • The Transit Map was laid out in a confusing manner, and we needed better iconography.

We took the feedback and created userflows for each of our key features to help us better develop them:

We incorporated this feedback into a second iteration and protype, which included:

  • An onboarding process to adjust users to our new features
  • Recreated a landing page that also serves as a cleared menu,
  • and separating our new features from the transit tracker and into their own sections
  • Simplified address inputs, and use cleared iconography and text cues
  • Created a different emergency icon

The second user testing went far better, with users saying things such as:

“…every phone should have this [emergency call feature]”
“I never realized i needed a detailed view until now, and I’m going to be really sad when I go back to using the real app later”
“This live feeds is great, would have really helped with that red line thing just the other day”

We did receive feedback about not requiring users to input name and contact info when reporting a problem (since they are already logged in).

With this in mind, we adjusted our prototype. View it here.

Solution Statement

Based on the feedback and our adjustments, we are confident that we’ve solved for users’ needs for:


User can now easily submit a safety concern directly to authorities.

Control of Time

Users no longer have to worry about missing a train or bus.


Users now have a constant and quick stream of real life updates from users like her.

Next Steps

Moving forward, we’d:

  • Keep testing various icons to convey the right level of urgency and feeling of help and ease in our emergency button
  • Focus more on said emergency feature and the live feeds, these elements proved to be the most valuable to users in making them feel safe, aware, and in control of their time.
  • Perhaps even make these features their own, stand alone app. It’s what the users need.