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NY Waterway updates mobile ticketing app for easier purchasing

Ferry operator New York Waterway has updated its mobile ticketing application to make purchasing fares more seamless.

Since the app was released in January 2012, it has been downloaded 190,000 times. The app’s success and latest update point to the public transportation sector’s continued move toward a wider embrace of mobile ticketing.

“After several years of experience with our mobile ticketing app, we developed a detailed understanding of enhancements that our customers would appreciate,” said Paul Goodman, CEO of Billybey Ferry Co.

“The addition of offline ticket activation capability addresses the single most common concern we heard from customers – connectivity,” he said.

Billybey Ferry does business as NY Waterway and is the largest private ferry operator in the United States. The app was upgraded through a partnership with New York-based developer Bytemark Inc.

Simpler and faster
NY Waterway logs 35,000 passenger trips per day – more than 8 million trips per year. Its 33 boats serve 21 routes between New Jersey and Manhattan, on the East River between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, between Rockland and Westchester counties, and between Orange and Dutchess counties.

The latest version of its app was completed using an analysis of the behavioral patterns of the original app’s 83,000 active users as the basis.

One of the most important aspects of the update is the availability of data caching, giving users  offline access to schedules, notifications and tickets.

Other new features include a redesigned interactive map interface to provide better information about the ferry service, a new slide menu for simplified navigation and faster account sign-up and sign-in capability.

Users also now have the option of using a PIN for enhanced security and, for regular riders, they can have their tickets automatically renewed.

Additionally, users can now split payments, view their purchase history for easier repurchasing as well as view active tickets and additional tickets simultaneously.

The app can be downloaded for free from, the Android Marketplace and the Apple App Store, and will work with all Android and Apple iOS-run smartphones as well as the iPad.

The system – which will run on Bytemark’s mobile ticketing and payment platform – also collects real-time ridership information anonymously. Eventually, it will provide unique advertising to customers based on where they are embarking or disembarking, according to Bytemark.

A model for big cities
NY Waterway’s app venture is a model for major big-city transportation players embracing mobile ticketing services, a trend that could eventually transform the transportation industry.

“The appeal of mobile ticketing for passengers are numerous,”  said Jesse Wachtel, chief operating officer at Bytemark . “They can use their mobile device to plan their trips, find the nearest station, determine the next bus.

“They also get to avoid long lines and purchase tickets far in advance of their trip. Passengers can also receive notifications on their mobile devices for any outages or delays,” he said.

Last week, Bytemark brought mobile ticketing to the Chicago area’s 111-year-old South Shore Line and in February it launched Austin’s first-ever mobile ticketing platform. In the months ahead, Bytemark will create digital transit tickets for Virginia Railway Express.

Mobile ticketing spurring transportation transformation
Experts view the growing acceptance of mobile ticketing for public transportation in major cities as a game-changer in the ticketing industry. Giving riders the power to buy tickets on their phones and other devices could potentially make long lines, malfunctioning or antiquated ticket vending machines, and the chores of collecting and verifying tickets a thing of the past.

Yet a large number of players in the transportation industry, such as New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, have been slow to adopt the technology, citing the number of people who still lack a mobile phone or shun the idea of making payments via phone (see story).

Increased consumer convenience
While mobile tickets offer customer convenience and save companies the cost of printing and mailing tickets, some general complaints about mobile tickets have been that they can be forged and some company phones block payment SMS messages. Moreover, if the phone’s battery runs out, the mobile ticket cannot be used.

Mr. Goodman said that system security initially was the ferry company’s primary concern. However, the company believes this has been addressed through the many ways in which personnel can visually validate active tickets. The NY Waterway app’s security features allow management to change images and ticket details so that deckhands can easily validate tickets, according to Bytemark.

The app does not use code scanners, near field communication readers, or other expensive ticket validation infrastructure.

Upgrading the user experience

Looking ahead, Mr. Goodman said he expects mobile ticketing to grow and become NY Waterways’ primary methodology for issuing and selling tickets to the riders who rely on its service.

“We also believe scanning approaches through NFC or Bluetooth will enable even greater reliability, security and real-time information sharing,” Mr. Goodman said.

Final Take
Michael is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York