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LIRR mobile ticketing plans moving forward

LIRR partnered with CooCoo, a Long Island based

LIRR partnered with CooCoo, a Long Island based technology firm, to bring online tickets to LIRR passengers for The Barclays PGA Tour Event in Farmingdale, and is looking to expand the program system-wide. (July. 23, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

The Long Island Rail Road wants all of its customers to be able to print train tickets at home or download them to smartphones by the end of next year.

That determination by LIRR president Helena Williams comes after the successful test of a mobile ticketing program last week.

The LIRR used the system for customers traveling to and from Farmingdale for the Barclays golf tournament. The agency sold 5,894 mobile tickets during the six-day event, said Joe Calderone, LIRR vice president of customer service. That number accounted for 20 percent of all LIRR tickets sold for the tournament and "far exceeded" expectations, he said.

The agency will move forward with plans to gauge interest from mobile ticketing device manufacturers this fall, and put out a request for bids by the end of the year, Williams said. The LIRR expects to partner on the venture with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's other railroad, Metro-North.

Calderone said the LIRR will look for a handheld device that conductors can use to scan bar codes on phones and printed tickets, swipe credit cards and print tickets.

Implementing such a system will present challenges not encountered in the "controlled environment" of last week's pilot program. During the test, conductors scanned tickets as customers got on and off trains at Farmingdale.

A systemwide mobile ticketing program would have to ensure the devices maintain cellular connectivity on a moving train. The LIRR also would have to figure out how to "collect" mobile tickets twice during a typical trip -- before and after Jamaica -- as conductors do with paper tickets.

Officials with CooCoo, the Huntington company that developed the iPhone-powered device used in the text, has developed mobile ticketing for transit systems in other cities, including San Diego.

"We think the technology is out there, the solutions are out there, and the industry is ready to move toward mobile ticketing," Williams said. "And so are the customers."

The LIRR surveyed 368 passengers who used the mobile ticketing option during the golf tournament and said that 99 percent reported being satisfied. Everyone surveyed said they would buy a ticket using the mobile system again.

"We look forward to working with the LIRR and their workforce in the introduction of new technologies to improve the riders' commuting experience," said Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, a riders' group.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union Local 645, which represents LIRR conductors, cautioned that mobile ticketing "may pose challenges" in some situations, such as with high volumes of riders.

"Ticket agents, ticket vending machines and conductors will always be the staple to fare collection in a commuter rail system, but mobile ticketing may eventually be a viable option," he said.

Williams said she expected that once mobile ticketing was in place systemwide, riders would still be able to buy tickets from agents or machines if they wanted.

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