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NICE rolls out GoMobile, smartphone bus fare app

A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola

A NICE bus picks up passengers in Mineola on Oct. 9, 2013. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Starting Tuesday, some Nassau bus riders can keep the change.

NICE will roll out a new mobile fare payment application that will allow bus riders to pay for their trip with a touch of a smartphone screen.

Nassau Inter-County Express officials said they hope their new GoMobile app -- the first of its kind for a bus-only transit system in the United States -- will replace pocketfuls of quarters for thousands of customers and also represent the first step toward a cashless, MetroCard-less bus system.

"Transit systems must change to improve," NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said. "Some things that impact our system and the rider experience -- like traffic or weather -- will not go away. But, technology is one tool that offers many opportunities to make positive changes."

GoMobile, available for free download on Android and Apple IOS devices, allows customers to purchase NICE trips ahead of time using a credit or debit card. As they board a bus, their phone screens flash a designated color to alert a driver that they have paid a fare. Transfers are good for two hours and 15 minutes within the NICE system.

The app won't be ideal for all users, including those taking advantage of the discounts offered by unlimited-ride MetroCards, or those who transfer to MTA buses or subways. But for many of the system's 25,000 daily cash-paying customers, NICE hopes GoMobile will be a better alternative.

"Think about carrying 18 quarters with you every day; it becomes a really big inconvenience," said NICE project analyst Jake Sion, referencing the $4.50 cash customers currently pay to get to and from their destinations. "This is really the first step toward kind of a revolution in how to handle fare payment at NICE."

Aaron Watkins-Lopez, a NICE customer and member of the nonprofit Long Island Bus Riders Union, tested the app for several weeks and said it works "great." But, he noted the app does not take into account some segments of NICE's ridership, including very low-income riders who are less likely to have a credit card or bank account, elderly customers who are less likely to have smartphones and blind customers.

"I'm just worried that as they move away from the fare box and the MetroCard and try to move more toward this technological stage, they're going to start leaving people behind," Watkins-Lopez said. "And those are the people who ride the bus every day."

NICE says, according to surveys, about 70 percent of customers own smartphones. Riders without credit or bank cards could use credit card company gift cards to load a GoMobile account.

Sion said NICE expects heavy downloads of the new app right away, and for about 5 percent to 10 percent of its 100,000 daily customers to be using GoMobile by the end of the year.

The app was developed by London-based Masabi, which has built similar mobile fare payment technology for transit systems in Boston and San Diego, and was recently hired to do the same for the Long Island Rail Road.

Masabi vice president Joshua Robin said the company's plan is to keep the new fare system "infrastructure light" at first, but bolster it over time with bar code scanners built into buses and potentially accounts connected to student or work identification cards.

"Our hope, in terms of the future of fare payment, is that customers will be able to use what is already in their pocket at the bus stop or train stop," Robin said, adding that mobile phones are a natural first step. "Get on the bus and take a look around. It doesn't matter the hour. It doesn't matter the day. It really doesn't matter where they are going. Everybody is looking at their phone."

NICE officials said the app provides other benefits, including speedier loading of buses, avoiding MetroCard "read errors" on fare boxes, and simplified back-office accounting and ridership data collection.

Search for and download NICE's free GoMobile app on an Android or Apple IOS device.

Register an account using an email address and credit or debit card.

Purchase up to 20 rides at a time on the app.

Activate a ticket when boarding a bus. A bus operator sees the flashing screen and records your fare as paid.

The same mobile ticket can be used to transfer to up to two other NICE buses within 2 hour and 15 minutes. Transfers are not accepted on MTA buses or subways.

Mobile tickets are good for 180 days.

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