Could the MBTA One Day Have Mobile Ticketing for Buses and Trains?

The transit agency certainly isn't ruling it out.

Photo by Margaret Burdge

Photo by Margaret Burdge

Technology updates to how riders get through the MBTA fare gates are currently under review by transit officials, including the feasibility of possibly one day rolling out an electronic pass for the rapid transit and bus lines similar to the mTicket Commuter Rail app launched in 2012.

During a presentation on Tuesday, members of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which oversees the T’s operations, heard ideas about what the potential impacts of incorporating some type of digital ticket for straphangers on the trains and buses could have in terms of boosting fare revenue and ridership, and improving performance times.

Officials from the MBTA’s strategic business initiatives division said during their presentation that “a number of passenger-revenue related improvement strategies” are being looked at during the current fiscal year, which runs through next July.

Those improvements could include researching the benefits of eliminating the use of cash on board buses to expedite the loading time between stops, steering away from relying on people digging into their pockets to fish out change for the fare.

Suggestions put before the board even highlighted the possibility of introducing a mobile application “on the core system,” which could mean expanding a mobile ticketing system on the main train lines much like the Commuter Rail’s mTicket program—but no definitive proposals were made.

“The point of the presentation was to show the ‘big picture’— that these are the considerations, factors, variables, restrictions, etcetera that must be taken into account when looking at fares from type, to collection, to cost,” a spokesperson from the MBTA said in a statement to Boston. “Right now, we’re looking at everything to make the best decisions for the future.”

Luckily, if the T does decide to one day take the plunge and introduce mobile passes, the technology is already out there.

In September of last year, Portland, Oregon’s TriMet transit system became the first in the country to roll out mobile ticketing for all of its services, including bus, streetcar, and commuter rail lines. The app eliminated the need for cash and ticket kiosks by letting riders both store and purchase passes from their smartphones.

When that system rolled out, the MBTA took a similar tone to the one voiced during Tuesday’s presentation, and said the agency was “continuing to examine how best to introduce and integrate mobile ticketing into the rest of the system.”

Until the discussions move forward, however, and details are ironed out, people can always just tap their way through the fare gates with the ring on their finger.