Mobile Ticket and Phone

Mobile ticket and phone. Using phone in SF Bay area to tap when boarding a vehicle. Payment is stored on a Clipper app.
Mobile Ticket and Phone

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.


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.

Going Further:

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.

Is Web Camera in Car a Good Idea?

Always looking ahead! Should I think about a webcam?

A picture of a webcam in the front window of a vehicle.
Is web camera a good idea?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Friends of mine have a private airplane and they impress on me the importance of the ‘black box’ that can record errors or mechanical failures. I don’t have an airplane, but curious if cars need their own version of a black box. This got me thinking I would install a web camera in my own car, a Toyota Prius. It’s not a black box but it could notify me if anything went wrong. Do you think that a web camera in the car is a good idea? Gerard, Berkeley

Dear Gerard: My first reaction is that pedestrians and bikers are going to demand their own versions of a black box and mount webcams on their forehead. When they travel they are at far greater risk than drivers! Then we all be in court disputing one another rather than enjoying the open road.

But, on second thought, the web camera in a car can be a good idea, even if you are not at risk of an accident. Today  police vehicles, commercial vehicles, and fleets  use them because they help monitor conditions in the field. It’s less commonly known that some high-end vehicles like the Tesla Y also  have these cameras installed. One of my family members was surprised, but then delighted to discover that his vehicle had a webcam with loop recording. Police alerted him to this hidden camera after the front-end of his vehicle was damaged by flying debris. The webcam helped identify the culprit, a driver in a rogue pick up truck. About 11 to 12 percent of auto accidents in the US involve hit and run drivers (or debris) and the webcam can help you with the identities.

Front, Rear, & Social:

Hopefully you will not be in that situation and can use your webcam for more amusing purposes. One of them would be to post eclectic and novel footage to Instagram or Reddit. A site on Instagram social media that always brings a smile  is called @Bad Prius Drivers. Just a note of caution here before you use the web cam for social media.  Most people make an attribution error and assume that they are good drivers but other people behind the wheel are not as capable. It’s best to install a camera that does dual-purpose, both front and rear -end views. Rear end accidents are the most frequently occurring type of collision, accounting for about 29 percent of all crashes and resulting in a substantial number of injuries and fatalities each year. Not something you learn about on the Instagram site.

Collective Data

If your idea of entertainment is more data minded you can also use the webcam to good purpose and learn about the wild life. In a transportation paper that sampled 96  moose-vehicle collisions, researchers analyzed the webcam footage in a novel way. They measured the effects of road conditions, weather, moose behavior and driver response. They developed a useful statistical model and have  some helpful conclusions should you encounter a a near-miss with a  moose (hint: vehicle slows).

Perhaps you will not encounter a moose, but be prepared to drive in a car with a webcam relatively soon. As vehicles get increasingly automated and closer to autonomous, webcams are going to become as essential as black boxes are to airplanes.  Cameras enable these cars to interpret road conditions and send them to a computer for processing. These cameras, unlike the ones that you install in your car today, will send data back and forth and  completely track your journey. Today’s webcam is resident within your vehicle and presumably has an on -and- off switch for privacy.

Digital Drivers License on Phone

Two examples of what a digital driver's license on phone looks like and the specific data is might query for.
Digital Driver’s License on Phone

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I was at the Sky Harbor airport (in Phoenix)  last week I saw something that surprised me. The person ahead of me in the security line showed his driver’s license through his phone. He did not have to fumble for his wallet, pull out the card, and put it away after TSA saw it, like the rest of us. Is a digital drivers license going to happen here in California?  My license comes up for renewal soon, can I request this? Austin, San Francisco

Dear Austin:  Glad you are so observant! Arizona became the first state earlier this year to get TSA approval for a digital license stored in the Apple Wallet. At least eight other states now have digital licenses but they cannot be used in airports yet. That said, Arizona still requires that you show a physical license to enter a bar, verify with the police, or get a document notarized! 

It doesn’t sound like the digital license in California will roll out too soon. Perhaps the state hopes to learn from Arizona, and is waiting for additional federal-level  protocol and standards, called the ISO. To answer your question about signing up, about 135,000 people, or 0.5% of the state’s licensed drivers will be recruited for a trial. It will presumably be open for non-drivers too, as the  California  REAL ID  will use the same protocol.


The Real ID Act in 2005 is the driving force behind this change to digital licenses. This law, passed after September 11th,  required a more secure form of personal identification.  Advanced cryptography is said to ensure that the license is valid.  Then, the ability to query the license makes this digital version distinct from the physical ones we carry today. TSA queries all of the information contained on the license (see image). But a merchant, say needing to verify your age to buy liquor or cigarettes, could only query your name and date-of-birth. Boundaries for the query would protect other information on the license like your home address, whether you are an organ donor, and thankfully, your weight! A query is initiated with an aptly named “identify reader.” 

Proponents of the new digital license argue that it will do a better job of protecting privacy, ….presumably fewer outsiders need to see your weight (or home address).  But you will have to trust that the “identify reader” only has access to the data it needs. Even today we might transmit more than we need too. The barcode on our licenses is sending information we cannot verify.

A different security breach could occur in the future  if the owner of a phone is requested to hand over their physical device, say to open the digital app. Then his/her phone contents and contacts might be unlawfully searched. The data for the digital license will be stored locally on the phone, not in the cloud or a motor vehicles (DMV) data base.


The roll out for the Real ID was postponed because of Covid, but Covid also gave it a boost because so many types of digital record keeping were piloted.   The public uploaded vaccination records to their phones and there were many versions of a “Covid Passsport.” Some connected to central data bases, others stored information only on the phone, and some relied on an uploaded jpeg of the vaccination card.

Several digital license programs rolled out during the pandemic and most states are making plans for it in the future. In Arizona, a state with 5.3 million licensed drivers, just 60,000 have put any mobile ID into an Apple wallet since March. About 320,000 downloaded an earlier app version, but we don’t know how many actually ended up using it too. Most apps that are downloaded are never opened or activated. 

Other Digital Opportunities:

If you are not able to sign up for the pilot in California, here’s a different digital opportunity you might consider. You could become an early adopter of a complementary product, the digital license plate. A company called Reviver collaborates with the California DMV to issue a digital R-license plate. The plate on the vehicle has the standard combination of letters and numbers but  in the border of the frame you are able to digitize a personal message or announcement.  You can change it on your whim. It would be a useful feature if your car got stolen. Then you could remotely send a message to the license plate frame that reads  “This Car is Stolen!”  This personal messaging has a monthly charge and does not come cheap. You might also incur an installation charge.

With your interest in mind,  remember that all of these digital innovations bring a two- way street. The new license will make it easy to change your address (or the reporting of your height and weight !) It will also be equally easy, should the occasion arise, for the DMV to suspend or revoke your license.