Mobile purchasing systems based on NFC have a way to go before they become ubiquitous, but other types of mobile payments already here. A great example is the Starbucks app that can be used as a virtual reload-able gift card. When you want to pay with the card, a barista scans a code on your iPhone’s screen.
Starbucks may have made this technology a part of every day life for millions of people, but it isn’t the only company to do. Some airlines offer a virtual boarding pass as part of mobile check-in features.
The same iPhone/smartphone screen as digital token approach may soon extend to your commute as well as your morning coffee or air travel. A pilot project in Boston plans to bring the same NFC-less mobile payment technology to the city’s commuter rail service.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which operates mass transit in and around Boston is teaming up with London-based Masabi, a company that has been rolling out similar technologies on the other side of the Atlantic. The service, which will reach full deployment this fall, will allow commuters to purchase their fare directly on their iPhone or other mobile device. To show proof of purchase that app will display an onscreen color good for that day’s travel. The system will also display a bar code that can be scanned by MBTA staff if additional inspection is needed. The system will also integrate with existing contact-less payment systems and monthly pass programs.
One advantage of the system for MBTA is that it won’t require a large investment in vending machines and other costly hardware. Even the scanning devices used by MBTA staff will be smartphone-based.
The ability to service a range of phones already in use rather than waiting for or requiring NFC-enabled phones should give the system a boost in overall use compared to a similar pilot being run in New York by that city’s Metro Transit Authority (MTA). The MTA pilot, which will run on Long Island Railway lines, will require NFC capable devices.
The MBTA/Masabi pilot will be open to iPhones, Android devices, and BlackBerry handsets. The MBTA estimates that 60% of its riders use a smartphone of some kind.