Digital train tickets to replace paper for some NY commuters

NEW YORK, July 11 Wed Jul 11, 2012 2:20pm EDT

NEW YORK, July 11 (Reuters) - Some New York commuters may soon consider paper railroad passes and lines at ticket vending machines annoyances of the past now that smartphones can be used to pay for the train to work.

Metro-North Railroad, the nation's second-largest commuter rail line, said on Wednesday that next month it is starting a mobile ticketing pilot program that allows passengers to buy and display tickets on their iPhone, Android or BlackBerry smartphones.

Participants in the trial - initially just railway employees - will be able to download a free app to their smartphone and, with it, use their credit or debit card to buy a digital ticket.

Train conductors can then check the screen of the phone in the passenger's hand and validate the ticket either visually or by using a hand scanner to read the ticket's barcode.

Metro-North, which is run by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, said that if the pilot is successful it will expand it to include customers. Metro-North carries roughly 141,000 passengers each day, most of whom take two trips daily.

"We are as excited to begin testing the next generation ticket selling technology as we were when we introduced ticket vending machines a quarter of a century ago," Metro-North President Howard Permut said in a statement.

The MTA said that it was too soon to say whether it would consider expanding the service to the New York subway, a much bigger transport network with millions of daily riders.

As part of the test, New York railroad staff are comparing the time it takes to use the digital tickets against the current on-board paper ticket selling, collection and inspection. They will also test anti-fraud measures, Metro-North said.

New York is following the lead of Boston, where the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority plans to offer the same service this fall. Both cities are working with U.K. transit ticketing provider Masabi Ltd, which has already sold its technology to 13 transit systems in the United Kingdom.

If employee and customer trials are successful, Metro-North will use a competitive bidding process to choose a technology provider to be its partner moving forward.

While cellphone ticketing has been widespread in Japan for several years, it has been slow to catch on the United States.

The trials comes at a time when smartphones such as the Apple Inc iPhone and phones using Android software from Google Inc are widely used.

While the popularity of BlackBerry phones from Research In Motion, has waned, many New Yorkers, particularly those who work in finance, still use BlackBerrys.

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