LIRR expands credit card pilot program

Conductor Sharda Kalladeen demonstrates the device used in Conductor Sharda Kalladeen demonstrates the device used in the LIRR's pilot project to accept credit card transactions on trains on a west bound Penn Station train. (June 14, 2013) Photo Credit: Uli Seit

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Long Island Rail Road customers won't be the only ones on the train tinkering with their iPhones as conductors next month expand a program to accept onboard credit card transactions.

The LIRR is growing a pilot project started in 2011 that allows conductors to swipe credit cards using a new iPhone-powered device.

About 19 devices were in use on Greenport and Montauk trains until a few months ago.

Starting July 3, the agency will spend the summer increasing the number of devices in use to 35. They'll be available on 34 daily trains, including on the busy Ronkonkoma line.

Additional on-train ticket fees will still be charged for customers boarding at stations with ticket vending machines.

"More and more, it's a cashless society, especially among some of our younger customers," said Joe Calderone, LIRR customer service vice president. "So this is a big step forward in terms of customer convenience."

The Ticket Issuance Machines -- known as TIMs -- run on software developed by the LIRR's information technology team. When attached to an iPhone, the machine allows a conductor to swipe credit or debit cards and print tickets.

LIRR officials said the newest generation of the devices -- the third tested since 2011 -- improves on past versions, including by communicating with a belt-worn printer via wireless Bluetooth technology. Previously, the heavy printers attached to the phone.

The devices perform some accounting functions for all ticket sales that conductors currently do by hand with pen and paper. Railroad officials said the new technology also will be useful for customers paying with cash or not paying at all.

For situations where customers have no cash or credit card, conductors can use the device to scan customers' driver's licenses, get their personal information and issue them a bill to return to the LIRR with payment.

Although LIRR officials would not commit to a time frame, they said the eventual goal is to allow all LIRR riders to purchase tickets onboard with a credit card. To accomplish that goal, the agency would first have to settle on a device that would not only accept credit cards, but also integrate with existing and future LIRR technology, such as the ability to scan train tickets downloaded onto mobile phones and work with other fare systems used throughout the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, which represents the conductors and assistant conductors who would use the device, said that a systemwide rollout cannot be rushed.

"When we sit down and work out all of the kinks and get our feedback from the most important resource, and that is the men and woman who use the device . . . then we can have some serious conversations on when and how to roll it out," Simon said in a statement.

Calderone said the iPhone devices could one day replace heavy paper manuals that conductors carry with them, and also allow crew members to communicate with other LIRR personnel, including during service disruptions.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said he supports any effort to make it more convenient for customers to buy tickets and easier for conductors to collect them.

"It's all part of moving forward to the next century," Epstein said.

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