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Amtrak Conductors Adopting iPhones to Verify Tickets

The number of industries that Apple is disrupting with the iPhone and iPad is growing by the day. Amtrak, the government-owned American passenger railroad company, has adopted the iPhone as a ticket scanner for its 1,700 conductors, reports the New York Times.

The phones will be in a case equipped with a barcode scanner, similar to the Linea Pro cases that Apple uses at its retail stores. The phones will scan barcodes on paper tickets, as well as digital barcodes on smartphones. The MBTA commuter rail in Boston is adopting a similar system for smartphone ticketing.
By late summer, 1,700 conductors will be using the devices on Amtrak trains across the country, the company said.

With the new system, passengers will be able to print tickets or load a special bar code on their smartphone screens for conductors to scan, and conductors will be able to keep track of passengers on board, Amtrak said.

“You don’t even need to print the document and bring it with you,” said Matt Hardison, chief of sales distribution at Amtrak, who helped plan the iPhone program. “We’ve made a number of important improvements for both our customers and Amtrak, all in one fell swoop.”
The Times notes that Amtrak's ticketing system is long overdue for an upgrade. The prior ticketing process involved punching a hole in a paper ticket and physically transporting those tickets to a central location where the information was entered in a database. Among other things, conductors couldn't keep track of how many empty seats were on a train and customers needed to get their paper tickets cancelled and reissued if they wanted to change to a different train.

Amtrak does have an iPhone app that allows riders to book tickets, check train status and schedules, and more. Amtrak eTickets can currently be purchased within the app for 4 routes, with the entire Amtrak system rolling out the ticketing scheme during 2012.

Amtrak for iPhone is available free on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Top Rated Comments

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62 months ago
Why iPhone

Why not iPod Touch? Do they really need the cellular connectivity?
Rating: 10 Votes
62 months ago
I think "disrupting" is the wrong word and unfair to Apple. They are not causing a disruption, the industries are using Apple's products by their own free choice. I think "pervading" is a better, more neutral word to describe what is happening.
Rating: 7 Votes
62 months ago
Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) has online tickets with 3D barcode since May 2000 (!). They are using a device from Siemens that can print also tickets nationwide while you are in the train.

Ridiculous how they want to make you believe that this is an innovation.
Rating: 7 Votes
62 months ago
While I don't ride Amtrak, I'm all for anything that makes the whole process easier & better.
Rating: 7 Votes
62 months ago

The number of industries that Apple is disrupting with the iPhone and iPad is growing by the day.

Might I recommend a dictionary or just a basic high school English class?

You didn't mean "disrupting".
Rating: 7 Votes
62 months ago

The iPhone can do many things, but it cannot save Amtrak.

Why does Amtrak need saving? From what?

If you're talking about the fact that Amtrak accepts a subsidy:

We subsidize federal highways to the tune of $40-$50 billion per year.
We subsidize aviation to the tune of around $10 billion per year.
We subsidize Amtrak around $1.5 billion per year.

The reality is that every form of transportation in this country is subsidized. There's a reason that you don't pay a toll when you pull a car out of your driveway - you are driving on subsidized infrastructure.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate (and this isn't a political forum so I'm not going to go there), but we need to compare apples to apples. Greyhound couldn't generate a profit if it had to build the highways they run on or airlines wouldn't be in business if they had to build airports. But that's the standard people hold Amtrak to.

You'd never understand that, though, listening to a lot of pundits on TV. (If you want a good, informative read, try Anthony Pearl's New Departures: Rethinking passenger rail policy for the 21st century).
Rating: 7 Votes
62 months ago

Why not iPod Touch? Do they really need the cellular connectivity?

I could see them being verbal communication devices as well. HA! All I did there was define what a phone is.
Rating: 5 Votes
62 months ago

I wonder if Amtrak will also begin allowing customers to use PDF versions of their tickets on iPhones (and other smartphones) rather than needing a paper printout of the ticket.

did you read the article?

"You don't even need to print the document and bring it with you," said Matt Hardison, chief of sales distribution at Amtrak,

Rating: 4 Votes
62 months ago

Dear MR, please have Jordan Golson proofread his articles before submission.

Feel free to submit your corrections to
Rating: 3 Votes
61 months ago
I ride the Keystone line (primarily a commuter line from NYC to PHL to Harrisburg PA) for work just about every day. My conductors got their devices a couple weeks ago. They're frustrated. Before the scanners, one of our conductors could cover about 2 cars' worth of passengers in maybe 8-10 minutes. Admittedly, being a commuter line, this gets easy because they start to know the names and faces of the commuters.

After the devices were introduced, a conductor's now covering about 1-1.5 cars' of passengers between stops. Sometimes it works on the first try, other times they'll try and scan tickets 3, 4, 5 times before giving up.

If I were doing a field research exercise with these conductors, I'm pretty sure my report wouldn't look too favorably on the scanners. Higher task time-to-complete, higher error rate leading to higher passenger miss rate (and possibly increased fares in the future), ergonomically questionable...many issues.
Rating: 3 Votes

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