Toronto's new express train will provide a mobile ticketing option, though whether that technology can transfer to the rest of the city's transit system remains to be seen.
Toronto's UP Express train is expected to debut in early 2015 and will carry passengers from the Pearson International Airport to Union Station in downtown Toronto, a distance of about 14 miles. The trip is expected to take about 25 minutes, a faster mass transit alternative to the buses that carry passengers to nearby commuter rail stations. Bytemark will release a mobile ticketing app that will enable UP Express riders to buy and store rail tickets on their smartphones.
"We see this expanding to other services in Toronto and other Ontario markets," said Gregory Valyer, chief business developer and co-founder of Bytemark.
Each e-ticket will generate a custom, scannable QR code for validation onboard. Riders will also be able to buy tickets online from Expedia and Kayak. There will additionally be point of sale kiosks at the airport's station platform. Bytemark has also supplied a mobile app for the New York Waterway ferry, a commuter train between South Bend, Ind. and Chicago, and transit systems in Texas,
"We see this as being a good fit for travelers, and also pilots, flight attendants and people who work at the airport," Valyer said.
It's not yet clear how the Bytemark system would connect to the other forms of transit that operate at Union Station. These include street cars, buses, subways and a commuter rail system; there are about ten different systems in the region.
Metrolinx, which oversees several transit systems in the Toronto area, is in the midst of a long initiative to standardize and automate transit ticketing and payments across these systems.
"We can expand to other parts of the system, but right now we're focused on the [airport train]," Valyer said.
A spokesperson for Metrolinx acknowledged the Bytemark mobile ticketing system could later extend to other modes, but added it has not seen the mobile ticketing system in action yet.
Other transit automation projects have added different modes over time. Chicago's Ventra payments system added suburban buses and commuter trains ahead of a mobile payment launch in 2016, while London has incrementally added buses, metro trains and outside card brands to its Oyster payment system.
Ensuring interoperability for digital payment tools among transit modes can be a challenge, depending on the transit network's fragmentation. Many transit systems serving older cities are an aggregate of legacy for-profit passenger rail services, and thus have separate infrastructures. While commuters demand an integrated user experience for a mobile payment app, that's not always easy to accomplish.
"Commuters certainly would like digital tools to work across all public transportation types, commuter rail, buses, ferries, etc. The ability to do that depends on two things: the way transit authorities are organized and the available technology," said Ben Jackson, director of Mercator Advisory Group's Prepaid Advisory Service. "If commuter rail is not set up for accepting payments in the same way as the buses, then it is tough to have interoperability."
The need for interoperability will vary by city, Jackson said. "A city like New York or Hong Kong that has multiple modes of transit needs the interoperability more than a city where transit riders and commuter rail riders tend to be separate groups."
Digital payments can also make it easier for infrequent riders to access the system, which may encourage additional use, convert some drivers to riders and help manage congestion, Jackson said.