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NICE buses to get cellphone fare payment app

A NICE bus making its route through Nassau

A NICE bus making its route through Nassau Community College on July 25, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

NICE Bus officials expect many riders will soon come aboard and swipe smartphone screens instead of MetroCards.

The head of the Nassau Inter-County Express said Tuesday the agency plans to roll out a new fare payment mobile application for riders that would be an alternative to the antiquated and glitch-plagued MetroCard.

The agency is finalizing a deal with an app developer and expects to begin testing the program early next year.

Micheal Setzer, NICE chief executive, said the app would allow smartphone users -- about 70 percent of its riders -- to pre-load an account, then pay for their ride by "triggering" the app as they board a bus.

The app would be more convenient than a MetroCard and it could be cheaper; it would charge the cash fare of $2.25 per ride rather than the MetroCard fare of $2.50.

Officials said the app would make NICE the largest bus-only transit agency in the country to feature mobile fare payment.

It also should reduce incidents of MetroCard "read errors" that some riders say rob value from their cards and keep them from boarding buses.

"They're ancient technology," Setzer said of the MetroCard during a presentation on the new app. "We think this will be a good solution for a lot of people."

The app would allow free transfers within NICE, but not to and from Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and subways, as the MetroCard does.

Setzer said NICE is working with the MTA on a possible fix for that.

Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group, said he expects to help test the app early next year.

He said it is important that the app not slow down riders boarding buses and that it be made available to as many riders as possible, including those who don't have credit or debit cards they can use to pay for trips.

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