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New York's Metro-North Railroad to test smartphone tickets

The test will determine if smartphone owners can easily purchase tickets directly through their devices, avoiding long lines at the counter.

New York City smartphone users who ride MTA Metro-North trains may eventually be able to buy their tickets electronically.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Metro-North Railroad is testing a new system this summer for buying tickets via mobile devices. The Metro-North is, according to some, the busiest commuter train in the U.S. by monthly ridership.

Acting as railroad riders, the MTA's own employees will download a free app to their iPhone, BlackBerry phone, or Android device. The free app will let them electronically buy any kind of ticket for any type of trip by entering their credit or debit card number.

Once purchased and downloaded, the electronic ticket appears on the phone as an image the conductor scans to ensure it's legitimate. The goal is to see if Metro-North customers can quickly buy their tickets via their phones, not only avoiding long lines at the counter but also eliminating the need to pay by cash on the train.

The test will kick off next month and will measure the speed, efficiency, and security of the new system.

If all goes well, Metro-North said, the railroad will aim toward expanding the program to its customers.

"We are as excited to begin testing the next-generation ticket selling technology as we were when we introduced ticket vending machines a quarter of a century ago," Metro-North President Howard Permut said in a statement. "Our customers adapted quickly to TVMs and the machines became the preferred way to buy tickets. The latest test is intended to ensure that the newest technology will be equally easy to use, as well as secure and reliable."

The provider of the technology, Masabi US, has already teamed up with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to launch a smartphone ticketing system this fall. Masabi's technology is currently being used by several railway agencies in the U.K.