Metro-North to test smartphone-based paperless tickets


As New York City Transit’s effort to replace the MetroCard with something a bit more modern slowly inches forward, Metro-North will be testing a smartphone-based paperless ticket system this summer. The railroad announced today a project in conjunction with Masabi that will allow its riders to user a smartphone app to buy tickets. Eventually, there will be no need for cash, frustrating lines at ticket machines or steep on-board surcharges for last-minute purchases.

“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. “Our customers adapted quickly to TVMs and the machines became the preferred way to buy tickets. The latest test is intended to ensure that the newest technology will be equally easy to use, as well as secure and reliable.”

The initial pilot, however, is a strange one as Metro-North employees will act as guinea pigs. They’ll have the free app on their phones and will purchase the tickets — any type — for use. The e-tickets will show an image a conductor can then validate with a barcode scanner. The initial pilot will include a time measurement study to compare electronic purchases with on-board transactions and inspection efforts. The MTA will also keep an eye on anti-fraud measures before decided whether or not to expand this program to all riders.

I expect this to be a smooth and quick pilt. Masabi is a leader in the field in the U.K. with smartphone ticketing apps available for 13 rail agencies. The company is also assisted the MBTA in a smartphone ticketing project as well. The only drawback I see here is that the LIRR isn’t involved. Provincial agency turf lines know no bounds, it seems.

24 Responses to “Metro-North to test smartphone-based paperless tickets”

  1. Adirondacker12800 says:

    The only drawback I see here is that the LIRR isn’t involved.

    Perfectly reasonable to roll it out on one section of your sprawling agency and then, when you have worked out the kinks and trained all the trainers, send the trained trainers over to the other section of your sprawling agency and roll it out there.

  2. Flatbush Depot says:

    What about those who lack smart phones?

  3. Alon Levy says:

    I’m glad that they’re using Good Old American Know-How to reduce the staffing from 6 times as high as on German and Swiss trains to something like 3 or 4 times.

    • Kai B says:

      True, German regional trains akin to Metro-North don’t even have conductors anymore.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        That’s because there are no unions and no middle class in Germany, right?

        • al says:

          The unions over there actually care about the long term viability of the pensions and benefits current and future retirees get, and the ability of the transport organizations to continue to maintain and operate the systems.

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            They are also part of national coalitions. They don’t have separate public health insurance and pension deals other workers don’t get.

            Almost all our unions are monopoly rent seekers. Including the de facto union of top executives and corporate directors.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Like they cared about the maintenance schedules of the Berlin trains before almost all of the trains had to be taken out of service?

  4. Michael says:

    It’s great to see the MTA testing new ticket technologies, but I hope that one system can be developed that works with all the regional transit agencies similar to the Clipper Card in the SF Bay Area.

    The only drawback to this phone based system vs a smartcard is whats preventing riders from purchasing tickets or authorizing them only when they see a conductor collecting tickets. Many times I have riden on crowded Metro North trains when a conductor never collected my ticket. Riders shouldn’t be given the opportunity to evade fares by waiting until the last minute to purchase tickets.

    Does this system require you to scan/tag your ticket before boarding the train to activate it? The Clipper Card works by tap on/off for Caltrain (Proof of Payment checked by conductors using hand held wands). This system works great since you don’t actually buy a ticket, It just deducts your fare (or Pass) based on the stations you tag on and off at. Similarly the Clipper Card uses fare gates and tag on Proof Of Payment for Muni, and fare gates for BART.

    • Josh K says:

      Yes, but on those occasions that a conductor never makes it you, most people just pocket their tickets to use for another day. I don’t see why it has to be made more complicated than just purchase the ticket on your phone and let the conductor’s handheld reader/ ticket vender just read the ticket.

      If the railroad doesn’t check your ticket, then its the railroad’s fault.

  5. JamesL says:

    I got to try out Clipper and the tap on/ tap off system a few weeks ago. That’s definitely the way to deal with zoned fares on a smart card system. It can store passes or cash and the hardware requirements are just an appropriate number of readers at station entrances/exits and modified vending machines. Two employees per train plus the occasional fare inspector will be all that’s needed.

  6. Jerrold says:

    A little off-topic, but I just want to remind everybody here that “City Room” on the Times website today has the first installment of that answers-to-transit-questions feature.

  7. Andrew says:

    Don’t Metro-North employees get free rides? Why would they buy tickets?

  8. mike d. says:

    Fare evasion…

    I have a ticket on my iphone, but my battery died. Can I get a free ride?

  9. Chris G says:

    First off, how do these systems work? Is everything kept in the app? What if I factory reset/wipe data on my phone? The battery thing is interesting too, but i sort of feel like you get what you get for choosing inferior hardware.

    Lots of answers needed still, but i’m all for this going forward.

    Regarding waiting for the conductor to come along, it won’t work on out bound very well as signal in the Park Ave tunnels are minimal. And I would bet, i have no data to back this up, that most of MNRR’s riders use monthly/weekly tickets already.


  1. […] e-tickets will show an image a conductor can validate with a barcode scanner. The initial pilot will include a time measurement […]

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