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Smartphones: T passes of the future?

Turns out the MBTA made a shrewd decision when it passed on buying $70 million worth of Charlie Card equipment for the commuter rail system. The cards were cutting edge 10 years ago, but they’re already on their way to becoming obsolete. Starting last week, commuter rail-riders are getting essentially the same service all those expensive vending machines and scanners would have provided — at no cost to the T.

The agency’s new smartphone ticketing system, developed by the British firm Masabi, allows riders to buy tickets on their phone and show them to the conductor aboard the train, bypassing paper tickets completely. The costs of developing the app were covered by Masabi, which will collect the same 2.8 percent commission that shops that sell paper T passes now receive. Smartphone ticketing debuted on the North Station routes on Monday, and will be available on South Station trains after Thanksgiving.

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The new system means riders won’t need to wait in lines or dig up cash to buy one-way, round-trip, or 10-ride tickets, and it should cut back on the amount of litter generated by the paper pass system.

Of course, not everyone has a smartphone, but surveys show that three-quarters of commuter rail passengers do. It’s not difficult to imagine a future when systems like the Charlie Card are a thing of the past. Frequent travelers may have a wallet brimming with incompatible transit passes: a Charlie Card and a commuter rail ticket, and perhaps a MetroCard from New York and a SmartTrip card from Washington, D.C., too. But with the spread of smartphones, there is no reason why transit systems of the future should be so inconvenient.

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