South Shore riders can now buy and use train tickets with their smartphones via a new, free app.
The South Shore Line — which runs from South Bend, Ind., to Chicago — beat the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra to the punch in becoming the first major rail line in the Chicago area to feature mobile ticketing.
The breakthrough was possible under a partnership with Bytemark, a New York City-based mobile ticketing firm which also has developed a mobile app for the buses and trains of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Austin, Texas.
Apple iOS and Android users can download the South Shore app for free at the App Store on iTunes or the Android Google Play store. A link can be found on the South Shore website.
After installing the app, they need to sign up for an account with their name, address and credit card number. Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are accepted for ticket purchases.
If they wish, riders can store multiple kinds of tickets — such as a one-way ticket and a one-month pass — on their phone at the same time, said Bytemark CEO Micah Bergdale. To show a conductor a ticket, riders merely call up the app, select the correct ticket and tap on the screen to activate it, Bergdale said.
The app also features train schedules, arrival times and a system map.
South Shore conductors have been trained on the new app, and should be able to answer questions about it Monday during its official debut, Bergdale said.
Card-based transit payment systems, like the CTA’s new Ventra card, have “a limited life span” given the breakthroughs in mobile ticketing, Bergdale said.
“It really doesn’t make a lot of sense for transit agencies to invest a lot of money on a card-based system given the ubiquity of mobile phones,’’ Bergdale said. “There’s a huge cost to producing, managing and supporting the cards that gets distributed out when you have a mobile device.’’
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore, paid Bytemark $50,000 to develop the app, and is giving them 2.75 percent, including all credit card fees, of every ticket bought with the mobile app, Bergdale said.
Metra is still trying to figure out a way to join the new Ventra system now offered by the CTA and Pace. Although Metra has talked to Bytemark about mobile ticketing, it is for now focusing on working with the CTA and Pace on finding a regional mobile ticketing solution that can be used on all three agency’s buses and trains, said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
Metra expects to test a mobile ticketing option by the end of the year, Gillis said.
The CTA’s Ventra system allows CTA and Pace riders to load fares on any plastic credit, debit or Ventra card that contains a radio frequency identification chip. When it rolled out Ventra, the CTA said it would also feature a mobile ticketing option at some point.