VRE launches ticket app, but many monthly riders have to wait

WASHINGTON — Virginia Railway Express’ new electronic tickets are on a roll.

The transit service’s new mobile app that allows riders to buy and use tickets on an iPhone or Android device was downloaded 3,400 times in just the first week, when riders bought $35,000 in tickets through the app.

On the first day it was available, Bryan Jungwirth, VRE’s director of public affairs and government relations, says the app was downloaded 1,300 times and riders spent $10,000 on tickets. 

He expects half of riders to be using mobile tickets by the end of next year, with a large new contingent of monthly riders using the app instead of paper tickets starting in July.

More than half of VRE riders pay for at least part of their tickets using SmartBenefits, but those must be allocated to VRE on Metro’s website by the 15th of the month. Since the app only launched in the middle of May, most SmartBenefits users still got their June tickets in the mail. Riders using SmartBenefits who now want to use the mobile app can reallocate their benefits for July from CommuterDirect to VRE. The money then remains tied to the app each month until a rider changes it.

Tickets bought in the app are good for a year after they are purchased, but riders still must validate the tickets in the app to use them.

“We want you to validate before you get on the train, so you’ll bring your ticket up on the app and say ‘use the ticket,’ and for the next four minutes that screen will flash, and that’s a way for us to know exactly what time it was validated,” Jungwirth says.

“If people are validating while they’re on the train, the conductor’s going to know it and they are eligible for a fine, but there will be a grace period getting on the train as well … if you’re really running late and you’re popping on the train in a quick fashion and just get a seat, then you can validate as soon as you get on as well,” he adds.

Riders whose phones run low on battery also are at risk of a fine and getting kicked off the train, but monthly riders can dispute it later by contacting VRE offices with evidence of a monthly pass.

“It’s similar to getting on the train without a ticket if your phone dies,” Jungwirth says.

Riders do not have to worry about cell service issues disrupting their ticket after boarding the train, because tickets that are being used are stored on the phone itself.

VRE is working on BlackBerry and Windows Phone versions of the app, and an update that includes trip planning services.

VRE has produced a video explanation of how to use the app:

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