VIA offers mobile phone app this summer

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VIA Metropolitan Transit relies on new-age technology to give customers a better experience.

By Maritza Ramirez

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

VIA Metropolitan Transit is introducing a way San Antonio residents can pay for public transportation through their mobile phones.

Steve Young, VIA’s vice president of information technology, said goMobile is new technology, and “this summer we’re planning to make things easier for our customers.”

The free downloadable application goMobile — available on Google Play for Androids and Apple’s app store for iPhones — will launch in June.

Young said the date is still being decided and there are more details to come.

The goMobile app is meant to improve the bus riding experience, and people will spend less time trying to swipe cards and purchasing tickets.

Students said how it could be beneficial to use the app instead of repeatedly swiping a bus pass until it works.

“It may be pretty convenient for some who have a phone,” architecture freshman Brandy Lee said.

“Every time you swipe the card, swipe the card, swipe the card,” Lee said.

History sophomore James Bush said this new way seems a lot more complicated than the VIA bus stickers, which are placed on student IDs to ride the bus for free. To qualify for the free bus stickers, which are available each semester on the second floor of Fletcher Administration Center, students must be currently enrolled, possess a student ID and be paid up on their college account.

Bush said he has never really had any complications paying for bus fare.

“I’ve been foolishly paying full bus fare because I haven’t got the sticker,” he said.

Referring to payment he said, “I just haven’t got it. … I try to do exact change,” Bush said.

Katherine Lopez, dental hygienist dual credit freshman, said it will be extremely convenient for those who ride the bus.

“Change is loud, it falls on the floor,” Lopez said.

“If it falls, you’re screwed,” she said.

For the app, “it’s two seconds — just show it to the driver,” Lopez said.

The purpose of the app is to give customers efficient and seamless rides and arrive safely at their destination, Young said.

The current paying process slows the ride because the bus idles while people stop to pay, Young said.

With this new way to pay, riders simply show their bus pass or “tap and go,” he said.

To buy bus passes through the app, riders enter credit or debit card information, he said.

They then click “Select the type of ticket” and then “quantity of tickets” by selecting the plus or minus keys.

Reduced fares, transfers, day and special events passes will still be available for purchase.

By showing your digital bus pass, the driver visually verifies the goMobile pass for boarding.

Young said once a customer has activated a pass, the digital ticket is an animated scene of San Antonio.

The ticket includes information on expiration, number of riders and type of fare that the rider simply shows the driver.

In phase two of the working project, a validation machine will be used at the front of the bus for scanning a barcode on the bus pass from the customer’s mobile phone.

“It’s much like passengers boarding airlines do today,” Young said.

The app has a GPS system for bus times and bus stops to transfer between buses and can be used for walking, Young said.

On the other hand, Lee expressed his opinion on the downside of using new age technology that may cause privacy issues.

Lee said he sees a lot of people purchasing items through apps and some may violate your privacy.

“Many of these apps can open your camera or GPS and track where you are,” he said.

“It might help VIA keep track of customers” … “people need freedom as well as invisibility,” he said.

Lee said it may be convenient for some who have a phone, but all this new technology may cause us to be a cashless society.

Young said VIA is the first transit system in the U.S. to have free Wi-Fi connection available for customers on board, have Google Maps and transit apps give access to bus times and now a transit app to buy bus passes.

Young said they are also planning to have more compressed natural gas, or CNG buses.

“VIA is rolling out 270 compressed natural gas buses this year with the rest of the fleet to be replaced in the following years,” Young said.

Young said these buses are a lot more environmentally friendly and much quieter than diesel buses.

Many new buses are already in service.

“Prior to this new fleet, most of our buses were diesel, but we also had a fair number of CNG buses as well,” he said.

There will also be a reloadable smart goCard in the future.

“The VIA goCard is a stand-alone product completely separate from the VIA goMobile app,” Young said.

To use the goCard, customers will tap the card on a validation machine, Young said.

While the goMobile app at launch will process payment from credit or debit cards, the VIA goCard can be loaded from credit card, debit card, or cash, Young said.

“When VIA launches the goCard, we will have many outreach events where customers can get cards,” Young said.

When the goCard is launched, it will be loaded through the VIA webpage, at VIA Customer Service Centers, ticket vending machines at VIA Park and Rides and various retail stores.

Young said no decisions have been made about keeping the regular ticket vending machine on buses.

For more information, visit www.viainfo.net or VIA’s goMobile page.

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