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LIRR to test plan to allow riders to print tickets at home

LIRR is partnering with CooCoo, a Long Island

LIRR is partnering with CooCoo, a Long Island based technology firm, to bring online tickets to LIRR passengers this summer for The Barclays PGA Tour Event at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale. (July 23, 2012) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Long Island Rail Road riders next month will, for the first time, be able to print their own train tickets or download them to mobile phones.

LIRR president Helena Williams Monday announced the landmark pilot project, which will be limited to customers traveling to and from Farmingdale for The Barclays PGA tournament at Bethpage State Park from Aug. 21 to 26.

If the small-scale test is successful, the LIRR and sister MTA commuter railroad Metro-North will move forward with plans for a joint purchase of the technology needed to eventually expand the program throughout both systems.

"It really is exciting to be able to promote this and give our customers the opportunity to try something different to buy tickets," Williams said. "This is our vision for the future."

The technology, developed by Huntington-based Coo Coo Inc., allows customers to buy their tickets online and then print them at home or work, or download them to smartphones, much like airline passengers have done for years with boarding passes.

Train conductors will use specially equipped iPhones to scan bar codes on printed or downloaded tickets as riders disembark trains at Farmingdale. The system is similar to that used to scan movie theater or sporting event tickets.

LIRR riders Monday welcomed the possibility of printing or downloading train tickets. Bert Sandler, 54, visiting from Lilburn, Ga., said he had trouble getting his credit card accepted at one of the Farmingdale station ticket machines, almost missing his train.

"I would have bought online if we could; it's so much easier," Sandler said. "You'd have your ticket printed out, the same we do with airlines for a boarding pass."

Coo Coo co-founder Ryan Thompson said that while ticket scanning technology has been in use in other industries for years, adapting it for a railroad setting was a challenge, in part, because of the difficulty of maintaining Internet connectivity on a moving train.

San Diego's North County Transit has successfully used Coo Coo's technology to collect fares since April, he said.

The pilot project is the latest of several ticketing innovations introduced by the LIRR in the past year. Since last summer, the railroad has allowed customers to pay for tickets with credit cards on trains on a few lines. The LIRR also recently ended a test program that lets customers pay for rides by tapping their mobile phones against a small disc-shaped "touch point" at their origin and destination stations.

Williams said she has high hopes for Coo Coo's scannable ticket technology because it incorporates riders' routine of handing conductors their tickets on trains.

"Everyone else seems to be able to do it," LIRR Commuter Council representative Ira Greenberg said of printing and downloading tickets. "Why shouldn't we be able to do it at the MTA?"

With Marina Villeneuve

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