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Toronto’s Metrolinx adopts mobile ticketing for rail-air link

The free mobile ticketing application Bytemark will release in the spring will let Union-Pearson Express riders buy and store rail tickets on their smartphones. Toronto’s addition to a group that already includes New York, Chicago and Portland suggests that after a period of reticence, more regional transit providers are being lured by the financial and customer-service benefits of mobile ticketing.

“The challenge for riders will simply be to make them aware that a mobile solution exists and explain the benefits of mobile ticketing over paper tickets,” said Micah Bergdale, CEO of Bytemark, New York.

“In terms of market adoption for other transit providers, there has been a groundswell of interest over the past year for mobile ticketing solutions and between cost savings for the provider and consumer demand, market adoption is likely to continue.”

Handheld devices
Each e-ticket will generate a custom, scannable QR code for validation onboard.

Conductors using handheld devices will be able to sell, print and validate tickets on UP Express trains. Tickets also can be purchased on travel Web sites such as Expedia and Kayak.

The mobile ticketing system, the first for Toronto-area transit, will allow air travelers to buy tickets for the rail service through the app, onboard the train or bundled with their plane ticket.

Users of the app can skip lines at ticket windows or vending machines and get onboard. The app also will allow for offers and promotions while bringing riders up-to-date information.

The rail link service will connect the country’s two busiest transportation hubs, Toronto Pearson International Airport and Union Station in downtown Toronto, with each one-way trip taking approximately 25 minutes.

The service will go into operation in time for next summer’s Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

This summer, Bytemark helped ferry operator New York Waterway update its mobile ticketing application to make purchasing fares more seamless.

Bytemark also brought mobile ticketing to the Chicago area’s 111-year-old South Shore Line. In February it launched Austin’s first-ever mobile ticketing platform.

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.

Slow adoption
Yet a large number of players in the transportation industry 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.

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.

“Without speaking for Metrolinx or the people of Toronto, I think it is fair to assume that with an express option from Union Station to Toronto Pearson Airport, many travelers might enjoy the peace of mind of travel by train, instead of risking getting caught in traffic,” Mr. Bergdale said. 

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