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Editorial: MTA running late on smartphone ticketing

A commuter uses a ticket machine at a

A commuter uses a ticket machine at a LIRR station. Credit: Ed Betz

It's great that Nassau bus riders can now pay via smartphone, but it raises a question: When will the Metropolitan Transportation Authority catch up with technologies other industries have had for years? For subways and city buses you can at least buy a MetroCard, but for the LIRR, purchase options are about what they were 100 years ago.

Nassau Inter-County Express now lets riders register an account on their smartphones using an application, GoMobile, and a debit or credit card. Riders can activate tickets on their phones that tell drivers that fares have been paid. Tickets are good for up to 180 days and can be used to transfer twice within 2 hours and 15 minutes of their first use -- but only on NICE buses. The smartphone users can't transfer onto MTA buses for free, as MetroCard and cash users can, because NYC Transit doesn't have the technology to accept the fare.

The MTA's antiquated ticketing is maddening. You cannot print out a ticket from the Long Island Rail Road's website -- it must be mailed to you. Neither can you buy an LIRR ticket to store on a smartphone. Consumers have been printing out movie, sporting event and airline tickets for years, and downloading them to smartphones, too. In a pilot program, the LIRR let fans going to the Barclays golf tournament at Bethpage State Park in 2012 print and download tickets. In a survey, 100 percent of users said they would like to buy tickets that way again. But no one's had the opportunity since.

The LIRR claims it (and Metro-North) are about 11 months away from printable and smartphone ticketing -- that's about three years after the pilot. MTA officials say they're working to accept NICE transfers, but haven't found a way to do it. Smartphone ticketing on NICE buses shows how far behind the MTA is. Hopefully it can give Nassau bus riders their transfers and give LIRR riders options beyond those available for Teddy Roosevelt's trips home to the Island.