In the last year, transit systems have ramped up their smart phone offerings to provide riders with much more than real-time arrival information. This is happening just as the number of smartphone owners in the U.S. rose to 54% at the end of last year, according to comScore. In 2012, 46% of Americans reported using them, based on study  findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Additionally, one in four Americans owned a tablet by the end of 2012, reported the study.

Transit agencies have been able to enhance riders’ experience on their systems in a number of ways, ranging from safety to the ability to get those last-minute grocery items on the way home from work. Here is a sampling of some of those apps and their features.

Safety
With the aim of providing a security tool that lets riders anonymously report crimes or suspicious behavior to transit police, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) released its iWatch app in February.

Lt. Mike Gettings, transit police, GCRTA, says the app gives riders options to report an incident via smartphone, text message, or calling and leaving a voice message — the system records the person’s voice, translates it to a text message and sends it to transit police.

Development company iThinQware created the app and the iWatchRTA.net website, taking into consideration factors that are unique to transit security and GCRTA’s transit police beat. People can also send notifications and messages through the site.

GCRTA also worked with the developer to create the look of the app, its ease of use and a marketing plan.

Currently in the second phase of its marketing campaign, transit police are encouraging people to use the app as part of GCRTA’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign.

Often, a rider might see something on a train, but if they picked up their phone, they might not feel comfortable talking to the police dispatcher, Gettings explains. The app allows them to simply text the information, so they can not only be anonymous to police officers, but also on the vehicle.

“The person in the vehicle [causing the problem] may be sitting two seats away from them. They’re not even aware they’re sending this to us,” he adds.

While iWatch was installed to use as a tool to notify police of crimes, people often send alerts about basic quality-of-life issues. That’s a good thing, Gettings says.

“We want this app just in case there’s a major incident, like somebody leaves a suspicious package, something happening out of the ordinary,” he adds. “Thankfully, we haven’t received any of those tips.”

The app has helped people point out minor issues and enabled transit police to respond. At this point, the majority of incidents reported have been other riders violating rules against eating, drinking, smoking or playing loud music on the buses. In the past, riders reporting these offenses had to go talk to the driver, and the offender would see the person making the complaint. The operator would then have to call the dispatcher.

However, with the app, riders no longer have to get out of their seats and bring attention to themselves. The driver, who often might not even be aware of the situation, isn’t required to make any phone calls.

Dealing with the minor incidents lets people know that the agency is serious about them. Then, major incidents often don’t occur.

“If we take care of the smoking, eating and drinking, then people are less likely to [commit] more serious crimes,” Gettings says.

Meanwhile, as part of a revived initiative started in 2008 to combat sexual assault and harassment on the transit system, Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) introduced a downloadable “See Something,  Say Something” app. The app allows riders to send a message and photo of the offender to transit police. As an added safety feature, the app automatically disables the phone’s flash.

MBTA transit police suggest that when passengers can safely do so, they take a photo with their phone of the offender and send it to them, Chief Paul MacMillan, MBTA Transit Police, says. “If we don’t know the individual — [many] are chronic offenders — we will send that picture to the media and ask for the public’s help in identifying [them].”[PAGEBREAK]

GCRTA’s iWatch app is a safety tool that lets customers anonymously report crimes and complaints.

GCRTA’s iWatch app is a safety tool that lets customers anonymously report crimes and complaints.

Mobile ticketing
Buying and using fares has also gotten easier with apps — some new and others in the works — from a handful of transit systems.

MBTA’s mobile ticketing platform for commuter rail riders, mTicket, created with transit mobile ticketing supplier Masabi, lets customers buy and display rail tickets and passes using the MBTA mTicket app for iPhone and Android, and soon, BlackBerry devices. The tickets are displayed on the phone’s screen as an encrypted barcode and as a human-readable ticket. The app is available in the Apple App Store for iOS devices and the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Customers are able to purchase passes from their phones for both the commuter rail and ferry service anytime, anywhere. They also are able to use their passes from their phones, eliminating a significant amount of waste from paper ticketing.

By the beginning of this year, the app reached $1 million in sales. It was introduced system-wide in November 2012.

Almost 50,000 unique transactions have taken place and that number is expected to grow as adoption increases and customers utilize the convenience of the mTicket for their daily commutes or weekend excursions.

New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) also recently introduced a mobile ticketing pilot program to Pascack Valley Rail Line customers traveling between Penn Station New York and the Meadowlands Rail Station for special events, letting them use their smartphones to purchase one-way tickets and monthly passes at any time.

The app, MyTix, allows customers to purchase one-way tickets and monthly passes securely on their mobile devices.

MyTix became available in April for free download on any Web-enabled iOS or Android operating system, via the App Store and the Google Play Store. The app was designed with input from customer focus groups, as well as NJ Transit rail employees and customer service staff.

NJ Transit is offering the mobile ticketing option as a pilot program to test its functionality and determine the feasibility of expanding it to include other rail lines.

Additionally, Portland, Ore.-based TriMet is set to begin testing its new TriMet Tickets mobile ticketing app. The app will allow riders to conveniently buy and use fares from their smartphones. More than 1,500 people applied to beta test the app. The test was designed by local software company GlobeSherpa.

Bus, MAX and WES commuter rail riders, using an iPhone or Android phone, can download the free app, register a debit or credit card in the secure system, and purchase tickets and passes instantly. The tickets will have a combination of visually authenticated elements, including a day-code, time and date stamp, and dynamic animation to provide security.

Crowd-sourced info
To help riders choose the fastest or least-crowded routes, some apps are available with crowd-sourced information. Riders contribute details about how full trains or buses are, delays, and Wi-Fi service.

In April, New York City-based navigation service HopStop launched HopStop Live! — a free, real-time social transit app that allows public transportation riders to contribute, receive and share real-time information about transit systems.

The app provides door-to-door walking and transit directions, schedules and officially licensed transit maps, and real-time crowd-sourced information from fellow transit riders.

The service benefits from two million monthly active users. In turn, it enables riders to enhance the available information from transit systems, acting as “ears to the ground,” especially in periods of disruption caused by unforeseen incidents.

The new service will launch exclusively on the iPhone platform with other platforms, such as iPad and Google Play, to follow in subsequent releases. The real-time transit service supports, across seven countries, 700 transit agencies, including New York MTA, St. Louis Metro and Minneapolis’ Metro Transit.

Israel-based Moovit’s free crowd-sourced transit app for iOS and Android also allows users to anonymously contribute information about available seats, delays, cleanliness, and support for Wi-Fi and handicapped riders.

The app was downloaded 400,000 times as of January, AllThingsD.com reported. Two months ago, Moovit added support for cities around the world.   

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