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New York Transit Authority to Test Tag-based Ticketing with Nokia NFC Phones

Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York and handset maker Nokia will test tag-based NFC ticketing in a small pilot before the end of the year.

The pilot, which Nokia quietly announced Tuesday, will involve 20 MTA employees, who will be able to tap NFC tags with Nokia smartphones upon entering and exiting train stations on one commuter line of the Long Island Rail Road, an MTA spokesman told NFC Times. The users won't need to open the transit app on their Nokia smartphones before tapping the tags, he said.

After tapping at the departure station, the back-end system will calculate their fares and, if they were real customers, would charge the fares to the riders’ preregistered pay-as-you-go accounts or weekly or monthly passes.

The trial is similar to NFC ticketing trials Nokia has been involved with in Germany and Austria, which enable riders to purchase tickets over the mobile network or post-pay rides by tapping tags at entrance and departure stations.

As with all transit operators in Germany and Austria, the Long Island Rail Road does not have gates or turnstiles, so there is no need for customers to tap the NFC phones on readers before entering a train. Riders now use paper tickets, which conductors visually check.

In the small NFC trial, which will be conducted on the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington Branch line, some conductors will be given NFC-enabled smartphones, which they could tap on the phones of riders to validate virtual tickets, said the MTA spokesman. It’s unclear, however, what they would validate, since the trial participants won’t be downloading tickets, according to the spokesman.

The MTA participated in an NFC ticketing trial in early 2007 using an early Nokia NFC phone model, the 6131. The six-month trial enabled a select group of customers to tap their phones on gate readers to enter turnstiles on the Lexington Avenue line of the New York City Subway. The phones stored a MasterCard PayPass application issued by Citigroup on an embedded chip in the phones. The NFC trial was an extension of pilots by the MTA of payment of fares using open-loop credit and debit cards.

The MTA trial planned for the end of the year is not as ambitious, enlisting fewer than two dozen employees to use the tag-reading function of the Nokia NFC smartphones. The ticketing system will calculate “hypothetical” fares, said the MTA spokesman. But the transit authority plans to expand the trial to real customers, he said.

The first phase of the trial is intended to catch any problems in the system, so the MTA will not conduct any actual fare transactions, said the spokesman. The authority later intends to extend the pilot to actual customers and fares on the Port Washington Branch and then to the riding public as a whole, he said.

In Germany, national railway, Deutsche Bahn, said in August it planned to roll out its NFC-based ticketing service, Touch&Travel, to its long-distance stations throughout the country. The railway said it would expand the NFC “touchpoints” to 320 long-distance stations in November. 

With the German service, preregistered users could ride trains and pay their fares at the end of each month. To travel, they would touch NFC tags with their phones to check in before boarding and check out at their departure stations. The phone would read an ID number encoded on each NFC tag that identifies the station.

The phone would then transmit this information over the mobile network to back-end servers. The railway would calculate the fares and sends a monthly invoice. It would be paid mainly by direct debit from the users’ bank accounts.

Article comments

GR's picture
GR Nov 17 2011

Maybe NFC will be the silver bullet that will finally let Nokia gain traction in the US.
But what Nokia phones are these anyway?

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