BOSTON — The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will roll out a mobile phone payment system for commuter rail passes and tickets in the fall, and sign-ups are now under way for riders who want to get involved with the first trial runs of the new technology.
"We want to get as many customers involved in the developing of the app as possible," MBTA innovation director Josh Robin told the State House News Service.
The application will work on iPhones, Androids and Blackberries and is being developed by London-based mobile ticketing company Masabi. The company will take a 2.8 percent cut on each mobile ticket sale, but there are no other upfront costs to the transit authority, Robin said. Customers can sign up by visiting http://mbta.com/fares_and_passes/passes/MobileTicketing/
Previously, the MBTA planned to bring the so-called Charlie Card to its commuter rail customers, but that would have cost the MBTA between $50 million and $70 million to implement, Robin said.
The T plans to launch a "limited trial" early in the fall and the full program later in the fall, Robin said.
Customers who sign up will receive updates on the program and could be part of the trial run, which will be specific to a particular line, Robin said.
The number of customers who sign up from a particular line will "influence" where the trial run is held, but no plot lines have yet been announced. The T's commuter rail service includes the Rockport/Newburyport line, which stops in Manchester, West Gloucester and downtown Gloucester and its terminus station in Rockport.
The app will allow customers to buy single-ride tickets or monthly passes. Once on board, customers can show the conductor their mobile screens, which will display an animated "visually encrypted watermark," which serves as a ticket.
Currently, customers have to seek out pass vendors and conductors use hole punchers to mark the single-ride tickets. During a series of MBTA budget hearings this spring, a number of Cape Ann commuter rail riders noted that, under the current system, a number of riders slip through the cracks with no tickets at all — a cry especially picked up by state Rep. Brad Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose district includes Manchester.
The app will also simplify the ticket-buying process by automatically processing the cost for traveling from station to station. "Zones go away so we're finally speaking in English to our customers," Robin said.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the transit authority hopes making the train trips more convenient will increase ridership as mobile phone scheduling apps did for ridership on buses and subways.
"It's the convenience that the apps provide people," Pesaturo said. "It's just another tool that makes it far more convenient to use public transportation."
T officials anticipate an average 23 percent fare hike set to take effect on July 1 will cost them riders.
But the MBTA backed off potential cuts to weekend commuter rail service after an outcry from Cape Ann officials, residents and others across Eastern Massachusetts this spring.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.