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Amtrak using Apple's iPhone as electronic train ticket scanner

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
The iPhone has found a new use at Amtrak, where train conductors have begun using Apple's smartphone to scan passengers' tickets electronically.

Amtrak, which is owned by the U.S. government and has more than 20,000 employees, began issuing iPhones to train conductors last November, according to The New York Times. By late this summer, the company plans to have a total of 1,700 conductors using iPhones to scan tickets across the country.

The company, which oversees American railroad train services, invested $7.5 million in its new iPhone-based ticketing system. Most of the cost ? $5.5 million ? came from developing the software, while the remaining $2 million cost is related to hardware.

The new system will allow customers to print their own tickets, or load tickets on their smartphone. The barcode included with a paper or digital ticket can be scanned by a modified iPhone, outfitted with a scanner and a special application.

Each conductor's iPhone includes a special internal case that not only includes the scanner, but also houses an external battery that allows the device to last longer. That's similar to Apple's own iPod touch-based EasyPay checkout system, which the company utilizes in its retail stores.

Amtrak's included software also allows conductors to inform staff that a disabled passenger is getting off the train at a particular stop, so they can coordinate the track and wheelchair lift. Conductors can also use the iPhone to conveniently report equipment failures, such as broken toilet fixtures.

Amtrak
Photo by Craig Dilger of The New York Times.


The new system will also allow customers to more easily book or modify reservations. The Times gave an example of a customer who could change their ticket online or through Amtrak's iPhone application, instead of receiving a refund for a ticket and buying a new one.

Amtrak currently has an application for the iPhone on Apple's App Store, which allows ticketing services and other benefits. The company is said to be working on an Android application that will launch this fall, while Amtrak's website can also be accessed by users on mobile devices.
post #2 of 16

Amtrack is pretty much bankrupt.

 

Do they make good business decisions?

post #3 of 16

I noticed this last week while riding the train. It doesn't make ticket collection any faster.

post #4 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

Amtrack is pretty much bankrupt.

 

Do they make good business decisions?

 

Not enough. Hopefully this is one of them, only time will tell.

 

It's the same with any business. They all have to make a variety of business decisions, some more important than others and nobody chooses correctly 100% of the time. As a matter of fact, it's the same with a person. People make choices, hopefully they don't make too many ones that will ruin their lives.

 

I'm not terribly surprised that you have yet to come to this realization though.

post #5 of 16

$5.5 million for scanning software seems a bit much.   Aside from the hardware cost, I don't see why this would have cost them more than a $ few hundred thousand, even working with a legit enterprise software developer.   I'm not one of these people who thinks Government can't do anything right, but it seems like every Government contractor is riding the sweet train to riches. 

 

On the other hand, Amtrak rode 30.2 million passengers in 2011, so the total cost of $7.5 million is only 25 cents per passenger and that's only for one year.    (I'm assuming that the 30.2 million represents tickets, not passengers.   If they really sold 60 million tickets, then we're only talking about 12 1/2 cents per ticket.)

post #6 of 16

In defense of Amtrak's budgeting decisions it may be helpful to know that Amtrak sort of has its hands tied on spending. The federal government (rightly, I strongly believe) doesn't want them collapsing so has given them money but then ties conditions to how that money is spent. Presidents from both parties have tried to make proposals about bringing vitality to national rail travel. Here's an old article which explains. It's a bit sad that conditions haven't improved much since (though the Acela is running).

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/weekinreview/12wald.html

 

The hard working conductors don't use any mobile tech. Rail travel is really great and I wish it were more viable and that it was growing in the US. In my opinion this is a step in the right direction to bring rail travel to parity with other types of travel.

post #7 of 16
I'm happy to hear that the US still has a train service. We've had electronic tickets for the last two years now. You pay for your ticket via the internet with a app and when the conductor comes around he scans a barcode that the app displays. It's very quick, much easier then digging for a physical ticket. The equipment they use is still made by Psion though, yes Psion there still big with scanners and inventory recorders.
Edited by Relic - 5/7/12 at 8:50am
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post #8 of 16

Why iPhones instead of iPod Touch?

 

Shouldn't the trains have WiFi so that communication can be done that way?

post #9 of 16

That's a pretty cool thing. But I wonder why it needs a special scanner. Why not just use the phone's own camera to scan barcodes?

 

Also Amtrak isn't "going bankrupt". They are simply in a service that doesn't make profit. It's public transportation. Nearly all public transportation costs money, it doesn't make money. Its essentially a public service. 

post #10 of 16

Good idea, but until the system supports ticketing from users' own devices including iPads, aboard all train lines, I'm afraid it will not be very helpful. You can wait on line a looong time to collect your reserved paper ticket here in NYC's Penn Station, if you haven't had a chance to print out your barcode to scan in one of the automated machines, or when the machines are all down.  Paper ticketing in an otherwise electronic system seems ridiculous, and should simply remain an option for those who don't have a smart phone/iPad/whatever .  Can't believe how long it's taken Amtrak to get just this far, wonder how long it will take them to complete the package.

 

Also, and not to nit-pick or anything, but I don't think the app's icon was very well considered, if you know what I mean.  Perhaps an image of a sleek new engine would have been more appropriate.


Edited by andyapple - 5/7/12 at 10:11am
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post #11 of 16

It would be smarter for them to slowly implement NFC tickets and receipts for online purchases. That way it would require in the future simply taping your ticket or phone on a door every time you get on the train. 

post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by bryanl View Post

I noticed this last week while riding the train. It doesn't make ticket collection any faster.

 

Haven't seen it in use, but it's got to make things more accurate.  The strip, seat, and patrol all-paper method is a mess.

 

But the most important thing, I'd think, would be to get seat assignments down more accurately.  If I could start signing up for the much easier sleeping window seat with regularity... ;)  The tabs slipped into the luggage rack is quaint, but has to be a pain for the conductors.

 

$5.5 mil?  That's a lot of *cough* economic stimulus.
 

post #13 of 16

Yeah.  Unfortunately (even though they pay the gas tax) they don't get an equal amount of the revenue from it.  They also don't get the same state subsidies that roads get.  So they are basically trying to maintain an infrastructure similar to our highway system on a much smaller budget.  I'd love to see infrastructure improved, but we at least need to remove the government interference that puts road infrastructure at an advantage.  If the subsidy level per passenger on our highway system was on par with our rail system then our roads would be in pretty sad shape.  Ideally, rail projects and highway projects are combined in to single projects for efficiencies.  Roads and rail use a similar gravel base and similar easements.  It is silly to treat them as different systems.  Rail also lasts longer and costs less then road.  There are some parts of the country that are building dedicated truck expressways.  We really need more rail, not less.  Trucks not only wear out roads, but it is incredibly more efficient to transport freight by train.  We need to address freight concerns and add passenger rail as an added bonus.  See steelinterstate.org for more info.


Edited by esummers - 5/7/12 at 11:12am
post #14 of 16
If the $5.5M is the cost not including hardware then it likely includes the costs of testing. Testing is a soft figure but limited deployment and all is not surprising to me that such a pricetag would result. It is one thing to write code it is another to implement and test it in an actual workflow so you can rewrite and get the bugs out of the workflow.
post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple v. Samsung View Post

It would be smarter for them to slowly implement NFC tickets and receipts for online purchases. That way it would require in the future simply taping your ticket or phone on a door every time you get on the train. 

 

Europe is already using NFC for there train tickets, so is Japan. We can also buy snacks and beer with it, mmmmm beer.

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post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Relic View Post

 

Europe is already using NFC for there train tickets, so is Japan. We can also buy snacks and beer with it, mmmmm beer.

 

There is, unfortunately, already plenty of beer being consumed on Amtrak.  It's like riding the bus, but quicker, with more space for your legs and drunks making up loud stories about how the met Jon Bon Jovi while you're trying to sleep. ;^)

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