Mass Transit App Payments & The Self-Destructing Mobile Ticket

Mobile payments and mass transit can be a nice match.

One of the earlier uses of mobile in transportation was showing transportation routes and schedules.

Those efforts were pretty much a mobile version of the Web, which was pretty much a digital version of paper.

Mobile value came into play with the addition of real-time location and arrival times of buses and trains, a clear commuter advantage.

Apple now is rumored to be on the verge of launching its own transit information service, providing subway, bus and train route navigation along with its maps.

Once the masses of commuters become accustomed to using their phones to navigate their mass transportation, mobile payments for that transportation is a smaller leap.

There are several, but one a good example of this is on the MBTA (Mass Bay Transportation Authority), whose app allows mobile ticketing on all commuter rail routes and commuter boats in the Boston area.



The mobile payments started some time ago with a rather novel payment approach.

Rather than tapping a phone or displaying a code to be scanned, like on Amtrak or at airlines, the mobile ticket expires.

The idea is the ticket is purchased before getting on the train. Once on the train, the traveler activates the payment, the conductor simply looks at the screen to see that you’ve bought a ticket and that’s it.

Shortly after, the payment self-destructs, somewhat Mission Impossible-like, after a short period of time.

One irony in the app is that under the category of Offers, the only deal offered is a $20 discount on your first ride on Uber. Other than a presumably high advertising rate, not sure why a mass transit system would promote that its riders use Uber rather than its trains or buses.

The incentive to use the app for the purchase rather than buying a ticket directly from the conductor is cost. The app ticket is a lot cheaper.

The real key in the MBTA approach, along with all the other mass transit systems that have embraced mobile payments, is the transformation of consumer purchasing behavior.

Once commuters start using mobile ticketing, it can be very difficult to go back to the old ways of waiting in line to buy a small piece of paper or plastic for temporary use. 

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