The Long Island Rail Road's ticketing system has been a joke for years, but union manipulations standing in the way of big improvements are no laughing matter.
You can buy tickets online, barely, but you can't have them delivered to a device to display on-screen or to print, as we've done with movie and plane tickets for years. If you order tickets via computer, they must be mailed to you, and you must have an account.
Even beleaguered Amtrak has had electronic ticketing since 2012. And Metro-North will have ticketing to smartphones early next year. But not the LIRR.
The union that represents LIRR conductors claims that it's worried about Internet outages and cellphones losing battery power. That's absurd. It wants to make sure the system the railroad adopts, one already fully designed for the LIRR by London company Masabi, is "the right fit." And management officials say it would take 19 months after the unions and LIRR come to an agreement to launch electronic ticketing. Why does everything have to take so long?
The real problem is that the union fears changes in the duties of the conductors and a possible loss of jobs. And the union is using its objection as leverage in negotiations before its contract expires in 2016. The union figures that if mobile ticketing is held up and the railroad remains decades behind in connectivity, riders will blame the LIRR, not the union. Don't bet on it. This convenience is long overdue.
Commuters deserve mobile ticketing, and regardless of what the unions think, it's the riders' railroad.