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Mobile ticketing in the US: Gaining prominence [free access]

August 1, 2016

Many transit agencies have implemented or are in the process of implementing smartphone based mobile ticketing applications for fare collection in the United States (US). Mobile ticketing provides several benefits including greater convenience for transit agencies and passengers, enhanced data collection, as well as reduction in fare evasion and an increase in fare revenues for transit agencies. It also provides the ability to integrate real-time passenger information system, onboard Wi-Fi and other services.

 

Smartphone penetration

 

The US is one of the world’s most mature markets for smartphones. In 2015, the number of smartphones users in the US touched 190.7 million, recording an increase of around 8 per cent over 2014. This is almost 60 per cent of the country’s population. Smartphone penetration has increased from 20 per cent in 2010 to 60 per cent in 2015. In 2016, the number of smartphone users in the US is expected to reach 207.2 million. By 2017, almost two-thirds of the country’s population is projected to own a smartphone. The US is also expected to continue to see the most data usage per smartphone in the world.

 

Figure 1 provides details of estimated smartphone penetration in the US.

 

Figure 1: Estimated smartphone penetration in the US

image002_481_05
Source: Global Mass Transit Research

 

Amongst handset manufacturers, Samsung and Apple are the most popular brands. Google Android and Apple’s operating system iOS are the most popular smartphone operating systems/platforms. Other operating systems such as Symbian, Blackberry OS, Bada and Windows have struggled to gain a foothold in the market.

 

Key vendors

 

Several key vendors such as Masabi, moovel North America, LLC (formed after the merger of Texas-based RideScout and Oregon-based GlobeSherpa in April 2016), Passport, Cubic Transportation System, and INIT GmbH have been at the forefront of deployment of mobile ticketing.

 

The vendors typically enter into contracts with agencies where they may receive a percentage of each transaction or a flat fee per transaction, and may even enter into cost-sharing agreements. For example, Masabi receives 2.8 per cent of each mobile transaction on MBTA’s system. San Diego MTS and North County Transit District (NCTD) have entered into a cost-sharing agreement for mobile ticketing contract with moovel for developmental costs and annual maintenance costs. The six-year agreement includes a three-year base period and three one-year options totalling USD347,500. moovel will also receive a 4 per cent commission on sales.

 

Initiatives by key transit agencies

 

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA): In November 2012, MBTA and Masabi had launched the country’s first fully smartphone-based ticketing system, JustRide, for commuter rail and ferry services. The system is a comprehensive mTicketing platform, including customer-facing apps for iOS and Android, conductor validation apps for staff, a management console, secure payment integration, and a cloud-based back-end system for customer service and operations support. It allows customers to purchase rail tickets and passes using the app. The updated system will include mobile wallets such as MasterPass and ApplePay; feature favourite and recent trips saved on the home screen; have improved look and purchase flow; and allow electronic validation of tickets.

 

New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit): NJ Transit’s mobile ticketing application (app), MyTix, was launched on the Pascack Valley Line in April 2013. Currently, MyTix app can be used on all 10 NJ Transit commuter rail lines, inter-state bus routes and bus services in South Jersey. It has been developed by ACS, a Xerox company. Between April 2013 and January 2015, nearly 400,000 accounts had been set up through MyTix and over 3.7 million tickets had been purchased by passengers.

 

Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet): In September 2013, TriMet launched TriMet Tickets – a mobile ticketing app – developed by GlobeSherpa. The mobile tickets are accepted on TriMet buses, Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light-rail, Westside Express Service (WES) commuter rail and the Portland Streetcar.

 

Users can download the free application from Apple or Android application stores and buy tickets by registering a debit or credit card into the system. The system allows users to purchase either single or multiple tickets, valid from two hours to 30 days, which will be verified with quick response (QR) codes and on-screen animation.

 

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS): MTS and Masabi launched the pilot of MTS mTicket, a mobile ticketing app in September 2013. The app allowed commuters to use their smartphone (Android devices and iPhone) to purchase their day pass using credit or debit cards for travel on the San Diego Trolley to football stadiums during the games.

 

Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE): In June 2014, Masabi launched the "GoMobile" fare payment app for NICE bus services. The product includes ticket purchase, user display and validation, back-end infrastructure for secure payments, ticket management, customer service and real-time analytics.

 

Ticket applications are available for iOS and Android phones. NICE riders can buy tickets on their phone and activate them as they board the bus. The tickets are then displayed with a barcode, which can be scanned for validation.

 

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace: In November 2015, CTA, Metra (commuter rail operator) and Pace (suburban bus operator) launched the Ventra mobile app, which offers passengers a wide range of functions including account management, loading of transit value/passes, account notifications, integrated mobile ticketing on Metra as well as access to real-time transit tracker information for CTA, Metra and Pace services in one place.

 

Cubic Transportation Systems secured the USD5.4-contract to deliver the app in December 2014. The development of the app was funded by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)’s Innovation, Co-ordination, and Enhancement (ICE) programme.

 

In addition, NFC-equipped smartphones (apps such as Softcard, Apple Pay or Google Wallet) can be used to pay single-trip fares and load passes at stations and retail shops for CTA and Pace.

 

Box 1 provides details of the Ventra app.

 

Box 1: Ventra app

 

The app enables passengers to plan journeys, make transit payments and receive real-time alerts for all public transit services in the Chicago region. It can be used for the following:

 

  • add transit value and purchase multi-day unlimited ride passes to ride CTA and Pace;
  • buy Metra mobile tickets with personal bank cards or registered Ventra Card’s transit value (or transit benefit value balance);
  • set up automatic reload of the Ventra account with a bank account or credit card;
  • check transit value balance/see passes and expiration dates in the account;
  • view transit purchase and travel history;
  • receive notifications and alerts for account balance, low balance and expiring passes; and
  • get transit tracker information for CTA, Metra and Pace by rail station and bus stop.

 

CTA estimates that 80 per cent of its customers have smartphones. As of November 23, 2015, the Ventra app had more than 50,000 downloads. On the day of the launch, more than 1,300 Metra tickets were purchased through the app and more than 5,000 new Ventra accounts were created.

 

 

The app can be downloaded free of charge from www.ventrachicago.com, App Store and Google Play for use on Apple and Android smartphones and tablet devices. Additional services and conveniences are planned to be added in future.

 

Table 1provides a comparison between CTA fare system services offered through vending machines, the website, retailers and the app and reflects the benefits that a mobile app provides.

 

Table 1: Comparison between services offered through vending machines, the website, retailers and the app (as of January 2016)

 

Activity 

Vending machines

Ventra website

Retailers

Ventra app

Load value

Load passes

Set up auto load

x

x

See transit value balance

See pass list

See transit history

x

x

Manage account anywhere

x

x

Buy limited-use CTA tickets 

x

x

+

Buy Metra mobile tickets 

x

/

x

Pay on board CTA and Pace 

NA

NA

NA

+

Get Ventra account notifications 

x

/

x

Get transit service notifications 

x

x

x

+

Get transit arrival/departure information 

x

x

x

+

Plan a transit trip 

x

x

x

+

Notes: √ – available; / – website feature that becomes available in conjunction with app; + – planned functionality (later phase); x – not available

Source: CTA

 

New Orleans Regional Transit Authority: In November 2015, Masabi deployed the JustRide mobile ticketing platform on the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s bus, ferry and streetcar services operated by Transdev. The platform allows end-to-end mobile ticketing and fare collection system and comprises apps for ticket purchase, display and inspection with back-end infrastructure for secure payments, ticket management, customer service, reporting and real-time analytics. The app can be downloaded free of charge from Google Play and App Store. It allows users to purchase tickets from their smartphones using credit or debit cards and receive the ticket as download for immediate activation or future use.

 

Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA): In December 2015, JTA launched the MyJTA app, which allows passengers to pay bus fares, plan their trips, and track JTA buses. The MyJTA app is powered by Passport and is available for free download on Android and iOS phones.

 

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA): In December 2015, the SFMTA launched a mobile app, called Muni Mobile, which allows passengers to pay fares on buses and cable cars. SFMTA partnered with Globe Sherpa to develop the app at a cost of USD95,000.

 

Metrolink: In March 2016, Southern California regional rail authority Metrolink launched the first version of its mobile ticketing app, which will allow passengers to purchase tickets through smartphones, tablet and other mobile devices. The app is available on iOS and Android phones and uses Masabi’s JustRide mobile ticketing system.

 

Metrolink operates passenger rail service in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties, as well as Oceanside in San Diego County. To begin with, only Inland Empire-Orange County Line passengers will be able to use the app to purchase tickets and connect to local bus operators at no additional cost in March 2016. This will allow Metrolink to test the app and make any necessary improvements before making the app system-wide. Thereafter, mobile ticketing will be expanded to the entire Metrolink system and include free transfers to participating bus operators.

 

Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO): In March 2016, METRO launched a mobile ticketing app, called the METRO Q Mobile Ticketing, for its light-rail transit and bus system. The app, developed by GlobeSherpa, allows passengers to pay fares using debit card, credit card or PayPal and download tickets on their smartphones for immediate activation or future use. It also allows passengers to download multiple tickets for multiple riders from a single smartphone, create an account, store information for future purchases, manage account information and plan their commute with the trip planner.

 

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): In July 2016, Masabi launched the JustRide mobile ticketing platform for Metro North Railroad (MNR) Hudson Line and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Port Washington Lines. Passengers can purchase tickets and travel using smartphones as an all-in-one ticket vending machine and ticket.

 

Sacramento Regional Transit System: The Sacramento Regional Transit System has launched a pilot for its citywide mobile app called RideSacRT. The pilot will continue till December 2016. The app will allow passengers to pay fares, plan trips, and track the public transit system, and has been developed by Passport.

 

Recent contracts

 

Several transit agencies have awarded key contracts in the past one year to deploy mobile ticketing as indicated in Table 1.

 

Table 1: Recent mobile ticketing contracts awarded

Transit agency

Vendor

Month and year of contract award

Contract details

MBTA

Masabi

June 2016

Update the mobile ticketing system for MBTA’s commuter rail system

Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority

Passport

May 2016

Develop a mobile ticketing app that allows passengers to purchase transit fares, plan trips and track bus arrivals

HART

INIT GmbH

May 2016

Implement a smartcard and mobile ticketing solution on TheBus and the Honolulu rail transit systems

San Diego MTS and NCTD

moovel, Incorporated

April 2016

Implement a new mobile ticketing application on a cost sharing basis

The Rapid, Michigan

INIT GmbH

April 2016

Deploy an electronic fare collection system comprising smartcards and mobile ticketing

DART

GlobeSherpa

March 2016

Deploy a mobile ticketing app as part of a larger payment platform being developed by Vix Technology by 2017

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority

INIT GmbH

March 2016

Deploy a region-wide electronic fare management system comprising account-based smartcards, mobile ticketing and passenger terminals for more than 600 buses as well as a back-end clearing and processing system for agencies in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus, Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, Polk, and Sarasota in Florida.

Notes: HART – Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation; MBTA – Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; MTS – Metropolitan Transit System; NCTD – North County Transit District

Source: Global Mass Transit Research

 

In closing

 

The US is moving ahead in a direction where it will soon be one of the most mature markets for mobile ticketing in the world. Several agencies have already successfully deployed mobile ticketing, and contracts for many more have been awarded. The increase in smartphone penetration (although growth is expected to plateau) and cost-effective technological advancements are expected to continue to further drive the deployment of mobile ticketing systems in the US.