The Stansted Express UX

Creating and shattering a magical user experience.


I just spent a week in London, and it's one of my favorite cities. It's massive, lively, diverse, green, and perfectly combines its thousand-year history with the present and the future. London's architecture is something else. My mom showed me around the new Battersea Power Station, and I was blown away by its imposing structure turned into a bustling public space.

I also love London's public transport, including (and especially) the tube. Apparently an unpopular opinion, but I grew up in a place with slow and unreliable public transport. So being able to tap my phone to enter any subway station, take one look at the map to find the route to my destination, and be on my way a few minutes later is a truly magical user experience.

Today, this magical user experience was shattered as I got off the Stansted Express train at the airport and was slapped with a £71.90 fine alongside a dozen other people. Little did I know that while you can board the train by tapping your card at Liverpool Street, it's not a valid payment method for trips to Stansted Airport because it's located outside of the London transport network. You either purchase a separate airport ticket or you pay the fine.

Obviously, it's a UX issue. Tapping a card to board a train in London is what you do naturally. I spent my whole week tapping in and out of trains and buses and even took a train to visit my friends in the suburbs. It never occurred to me that I'm breaking the law by tapping into the Stansted Express to go from London Liverpool Street to London Stansted.

It worked, and there were no warnings. And it's London, right?

Wrong. Stansted isn't London. And "this information is freely available so you should've known this when boarding the train and ignorance of the law is not an excuse", according to the grumpy Greater Anglia guy with a card reader who collected my £71.90.

It's not an excuse, but it's a UX issue. And clearly there's not enough signage warning people about it since according to this 2019 article they had fined 16,000 passengers in just two years back then. And people have been mad about it for ages.

And it's a conscious decision on their part. If they really "wanted customers to have a positive experience and looked for new ways to improve" as per their spokesperson's quote, they'd just fix the UX instead of blaming the users. It's simple, really: place a proper warning sign on the London Liverpool platform, put a less grumpy card reader guy underneath it to sell tickets.

Boom. Problem solved, magical UX restored. Otherwise Greater Anglia is just cashing in on tourists.

Have a magical week,


A few thoughts

Colds vs allergies. I've been catching colds like crazy this year, including one in London. But often they start innocuously, like a slightly itchy throat - and sometimes disappear a few paracetamols later without ever getting worse. I wonder if some of my colds are actually allergies, or at least start as such while making my body more susceptible to an actual cold (or flu). I'll read more on it.

Portable laptops. I've been taking my Dell XPS 17 with me when traveling these past few years, but it's a bit too heavy for a portable laptop. If MacOS didn't frustrate me as much as it does, I'd totally get a MacBook. I wonder if the Microsoft Surface Pro is a good alternative? (A rep at the Microsoft store in London showed one to me, and I was quite impressed).

Loved reading this

The Maintenance Race "The different maintenance styles of the three sailors led directly to their different outcomes. Knox-Johnston’s style was: “Whatever comes, deal with it.” And he did. Crowhurst’s was: “Hope for the best.” It killed him. Moitessier’s was: “Prepare for the worst.” It freed him. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston won the Golden Globe Race. Bernard Moitessier won the maintenance race."

The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial "In other words, premium mediocrity is dressing for the lifestyle you’re supposed to want, in order to hold on to the lifestyle you can actually afford — for now — while trying to engineer a stroke of luck."


I'm sending this a bit later than usual. Thought I'd write it on the plane back home, but the allergy-turned-cold was kicking my ass, so I just sat there crying and sniffling. Fortunately had a mask, so it wasn't too bad for those around me.

(Does Epilogue sound better than The End? Feels a little too pompous.)