BART unveils ticketless travel

Under planned new system, passengers could buy fares, board trains with cell phones

Within the next year, BART riders will be able to board their train simply by using their cell phones.

The transit agency unveiled new cell phone technology Monday — expected to be introduced by the end of next year — that will be the cornerstone of ticketless travel in the Bay Area. Similar to FasTrak, it will allow commuters to buy BART dollar increments online and then swipe their cell phone over the turnstile.

Near Field Communication technology, which is already commonly used in Europe and Asia, uses a smart chip embedded into the phone to store the value of a BART ticket purchased on the Internet. BART board of directors member James Fang said the technology will eventually be used by 27 Bay Area public transit agencies, but BART is one of the first in the nation to be prepared to make the switch. The smart chips are unavailable in the U.S. but are expected to be on the market by next year.

“We think this is the wave of the future, but while cards will continue to be used this makes us more convenient,” he said. “Not only will you be able to ride BART by just scanning, you will be able to ride all transit agencies.”

All 1,000 BART turnstiles were equipped with the technology to read the smart chip three years ago, according to spokesman Linton Johnson.

Once the cell phones are available in the United States, riders will simply have to purchase tickets online from their cell phone provider and then swipe their phone over the turnstile. The smart chip keeps track of how much money has been spent, according to Fang. He said the transit agency, which prints more than 50 million paper tickets ayear, may also consider offering discounts to riders who use the treeless technology.

The new system will help alleviate a growing problem of portable media devices and cell phones demagnetizing BART tickets.Cell phones sometimes distort or remove the remaining available fare encoded on the ticket’s magnetic strip.

There are no transit agencies in the country that use the technology, according to Johnson, but Phillips Arena in Atlanta allows patrons to use their cell phones to purchase tickets.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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