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MBTA simplifies daily commute via mobile ticketing

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is rolling out a new mobile ticketing service, giving commuters a way to purchase and display rail tickets on their smartphones.

Beginning with a small pilot this summer and rolling out more broadly in the fall, the MBTA will introduce mobile applications for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry that can be used to purchase commuter rail tickets and passes. Once tickets are purchased, customers can use the apps to display the tickets on their mobile device.

“Since most commuters carry a connected smartphone, offering a way to buy tickets via an app makes a lot of sense,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

“Only half of all their stations have automated ticket kiosks, so this option allows anywhere, anytime ticketing,” he said. “This should increase ridership and decrease administrative and personnel costs, especially consumer comfort with mobile payment grows.”

Mr. Kerr is not affiliated with the MBTA and spoke based on his experience in mobile.

MBTA did not respond to press inquiries.

Added convenience
The MBTA already allows ticketing by preloaded NFC/RFID cards that riders can carry in a wallet or purse and simply tap against a reader. However, these NFC cards need to be manually loaded with value.

A smartphone app serves as the Web-connected delivery mechanism for both sides of the payment/redemption cycle.

Less than half of MBTA’s 140 commuter rail stations having fare vending machines, the goal of the mobile ticketing service is to bring customers added convenience without additional costs.

With the mobile apps, riders will be able to buy their tickets via a credit or debit card directly from their phones. Monthly pass holders will be able to link a plastic CharlieCard, the MBTA’s rechargeable ticket system, allowing them to tap their phones for rail access on subway and bus systems.

All mobile tickets will have bar codes so they can be validated, which will help combat fare evasion.

Throughout the pilot program, smart phone-equipped train conductors will be checking tickets to ensure their validity.

“Riders often to not have cash and, assuming credit can be ‘preloaded’ like a toll pass, a mobile ticketing app should make paying for commuting easier,” Mr. Kerr said. “Tickets can be purchased while waiting for a train and redeemed by conductors who only have to scan a bar code.

“The app can also provide real-time service updates, schedules or even promotional specials to increase ridership, all via opt-on push notification,” he said. “Any mobile technology that reduces friction at the point of sale should drive up revenue.

In addition to the added convenience the mobile ticketing system will bring to

MBTA riders, the transit authority itself expects to be able to reduce costs by eliminating the need for additional vending machines and lowering cash handling costs.

Others to follow
In the coming months, the MBTA will be inviting customers to participate in designing the new applications via focus groups and a small group pilot which will roll out in late summer.

The MBTA has partnered with Masabi on this project. Masabi is a mobile ticketing provider in Britain, where its technology is used by 11 rail operators and ticketing providers including Virgin Trains.

The MBTA is the fifth largest transit agency in the U.S. serving approximately 1.3 million passenger trips each weekday. Its foray into mobile ticketing is the most comprehensive of several to be introduced for commuters in the U.S. recently.

Many transportation companies are hopping on the mobile ticketing bandwagon.

In January, the New York transportation company NY Waterway rolled out a mobile payment service to let users pay for ferry tickets via an application on their mobile device (see story).

Last fall, the NJ Transit transportation service became the first public commuter organization using Google Wallet, enabling riders to pay for rail tickets at Newark Airport, Penn Station and on bus lines via the mobile payments app (see story).

“This pilot program is the first of its kind in the US and, if it is successful, will likely serve as a model for others to follow,” Mr. Kerr said. “Mobile commerce and mobile payments are expected to see explosive growth in 2012.

“As smartphone penetration passed the 50 percent mark in the U.S., offering these consumers tools that make life easier is a smart move,” he said.