Have Smartphone, Will Travel

Smartphones are ubiquitous in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of all Americans now own one, and the statistics show that ownership crosses age and income boundaries (74% of those ages 50-64, 42% of those 65+, and 64% of those earning less than $30,000/year own cell phones). Most people won’t leave home without their devices, which means they’re walking out the door every day carrying a potential bus ticket.

Mobile ticketing is quickly gaining in popularity because it’s convenient for both passengers and transit agencies. For passengers, it eliminates the need to stand in line to purchase a ticket or the necessity of carrying exact change for a fare. For agencies, there are fewer tickets to print, a reduced need to maintain ticket vending machines, an easy way to mobilize free tickets, and less cash to track.

For more insight into this innovative form of payment, we talked to Sam Daly, head of business development for Token Transit. Token Transit is a mobile ticketing app that lets riders use their phones to pay for their public transit tickets and passes. More than 40,000 customers at 40 transit agencies around the U.S. are currently using Token Transit. Daly says Token Transit has worked hard to make the app simple to use for all customers, “We have elderly folks, persons with disabilities, those on government-sponsored phones that use the app. We have a wide variety of demographics using the app successfully every day.”

Token Transit is an independent app which means the transit agency doesn’t have to worry about making changes if there’s an upgrade to a mobile operating system. The agency can rely on Token Transit to do that. Similarly, Token Transit runs its own customer service platform. If there are payment or app issues, customers can call Token Transit directly. “Part of the reason we do that is if there is a common issue with the app we want to know about it so we can fix it, so the next customer doesn’t face the same problem,” said Daly.

Getting Token Transit up and running is quick, according to Daly. “We’ve onboarded agencies in under 72 hours.” Token Transit provides a short training video, and as soon as operators are trained and comfortable with the process, the app is ready to launch.

To verify tickets, agencies have the option of using tap-to-board validators or visual inspection. In the former, a passenger taps her phone against the validator; a beep indicates an authentic ticket. In the latter, Token Transit provides a word and color of the day which pop up on the rider’s phone for the operator to check. Token Transit is mindful of the need to provide security, but Daly says, “The idea is to have the best security features while still making the [app] really easy for customers to use and access their passes.” 

Token Transit has some other innovative ideas for the future of public transit. “We have this long-term vision to make transit free, so the end user doesn’t pay for their transit fare.” The idea, says Daly, is to encourage other interested parties – universities, employers, governmental agencies – to absorb the cost of transit. “We subsidize parking left and right, but people still have to pay their transit fare. This is just the free parking version for transit.”

While Token Transit is still just “scratching the surface” of the possibility of third-party payers, it already offers a way for customers to send transit passes in text messages. “You can send a bus pass to your son or daughter or anybody,” says Daly. The feature can be scaled for larger events as well. For example, an industry conference could text passes to attendees, or universities could send them to fans attending athletic events. And unlike paper tickets, Token Transit can provide the buyer with information about pass usage so the buyer can determine if it is getting a positive return on its investment.

Mobile ticketing, it’s not the wave of the future. It’s the wave of now.

Brent Leland