Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am turning 65 next month and plan to do some bucket list travel, mostly in Europe. But my first step is getting my senior travel card (the Clipper) here in San Francisco as it gives me a 50 percent discount. I am happy to have a mobile ticket and phone. My partner who is also eligible thinks that this is unnecessary and is encouraging me to stick with a traditional plastic fare card or a paper pass. Can you help? Lucy, San Francisco
Dear Lucy: Mobile tickets and phones seem to be converging as travel companions. During the Covid pandemic you needed to upload travel documents to your phone in order to travel internationally. And since the beginning of the year, the TSA has let passengers at the Phoenix Airport store their known traveler information on the phone. And locally, as you noted, the Clipper app stores fares for the bus, ferry, or train on your phone.
Since you are ready to have a mobile ticket on phone but your partner is not, let’s try to understand the reluctance. In the social science literature there’s research called the “Technology Adoption Model” or TAM. It tells us, for example, that when ATM cards for banking were first introduced, there was a similar reaction. But, because of their utility and convenience naysayers eventually adopted them. Identifying a solid motivation to use the new product or software is a TAM prerequisite.
THE PLUS- THE MINUS:
You could try to present some reasons why this mobile ticket on phone is more convenient. You are less likely to lose it, there is no digging for the card in a wallet or purse at the time of boarding, and you don’t have to carry around bulky pieces of plastic. The most compelling reason, of course, is the integration of travel fares from the subway, to the ferry, to trains. Occasionally a transit provider will provide discounted fares within the mobile app.
On the flip side, your partner might raise a few issues. Perhaps phone-anxiety rests beneath the surface. For those who travel regularly and use the card frequently that is a cinch, but for the occasional rider it could be a hassle. What are the passwords (if any) and where are the fares stored on this device? There might also be a latent anxiety about multitasking, like making or taking a phone call or text while the payment app is open.
Another concern, again insights from TAM work, is that a level of privacy is eroded. Each travel trip is recorded in some way, both on the plastic card and on your phone. You would not want to use either, ahum, if you slip out to rob the credit union and use the BART train as the get-away vehicle. Information about your identity and your location is more detailed within the mobile ticket on your phone. When you need to refill the pass even more data will be passed through. You will use a credit card linked to your unique email address. Here in the Bay Area, it is similar to using the FasTrak for bridge tolls and parking.
You mentioned that you plan to travel internationally. Many transit systems throughout the world now store both currency and travel passes on the phone. I can see how this might seem daunting. On the other hand, it will let you travel directly from an airport terminal to an inbound train or bus without having to navigate a ticket machine, a new currency, and possibly higher fees. You mentioned taking trips to Europe. Sweden, Finland, and the UK are among countries where you can use your mobile ticket and phone to ride public transit.
Once you and your partner get comfortable with the digital travel passes, will digital travel funds come next? According to the Wall St. Journal, the percentage of iPhones with Apple Pay activated was 10% in 2016 and 20% in 2017. Today, the rate is 75% and is “inching toward ubiquity.” As you begin your international travel you may want to consider if storing a credit card on your phone will streamline more transactions, in addition to those from bus to ferry to train. But you will have to bring your partner up to speed, literally.