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Date: 09/02/11 11:24
Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: shoretower

This is getting to be a sore subject with me. Most weeks, I take Amtrak from PHL to WAS on Monday morning, and return Thursday evening on Megabus. With Amtrak, I need to reserve and pay for the ticket in advance, and then I need to stop either at the ticket counter or QuikTrack machine to obtain a ticket coupon. With Megabus, I book online and pay for the ticket, and need only show a reservation # to board the bus. The ticket can be changed on-line as well, and again, all I need is the new res #.

Last Monday, Amtrak was still coping with flood damage, as we all know. Trains were running PHL to WAS. So I took my reservation information to the station, prepared to pick up my tickets (in this instance, a round trip). Unfortunately, Amtrak's ticketing system was down (don't know if it was weather-related) so they were unable to print me a ticket either at QuikTrak or at the ticket counter. I was told to board and show my res# to the conductor, which I did.

But then the fun started. To get my return ticket, I needed to call Amtrak. The Amtrak agent couldn't help me; she had to put me on hold and talk to customer service, which then emailed me a revised reservation. Despite its bar code, the Amtrak clerk warned me it could not be ticketed at QuikTrak -- I HAD to go to the ticket counter.

So the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend, I arrived at Union Station in Washington an hour early and waited 20 minutes in line to talk to a ticket agent. When I explained, she at first didn't comprehend, and started asking me for money (the tickets were, of course, prepaid). Eventually we got things straightened out and I got a one-way coupon plus an "exchange voucher" which apparently was some kind of receipt for the trip I had already taken. I then boarded Train 138 with no further ado.

This entire exercise was a waste of my time and Amtrak's time. Why can't Amtrak simply allow me to show my reservation number, just as Megabus does? To be sure, Amtrak's ticketing process is expensive and complex -- and also obsolete. Megabus is even more resource-limited than Amtrak -- perhaps they simply can't afford an elaborate ticketing system?

I've been printing out airline boarding passes for at least 15 years now. It's time Amtrak joined the 20th Century.



Date: 09/02/11 11:32
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: mundo

Amtrak is moving in this direction. The Downeastern service is a test bed.



Date: 09/02/11 12:07
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: PumpkinHogger

Funny you should axe -


» Visit the Official NARP Website

Downeaster’s Mobile Device Field Test
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Passengers on Amtrak’s popular Boston-Portland, ME Downeaster service will be seeing something new beginning this week—a technology that will fundamentally change the way Amtrak accepts and tracks tickets.

Currently, conductors collect paper tickets from customers and carry them in their shirt pockets—a system relatively unchanged since the days when locomotives were powered by steam. While it is true that there is a digital documentation of a passenger’ reservation, the only record of who actually boarded the train resides in the conductor’s paper tickets.

That’s all about to change. Passengers on the Downeaster will be part of a mobile device field test beginning this week. [See image of Amtrak’s seatback notification, at bottom] For the time being, there will be nothing different about how customers purchase tickets. The only difference passengers will see is the portable ticket-scanning device conductors will be field-testing, which will be used to instantly send ticket information to a central database.

First and foremost, this will increase the safety of passengers. Accidents are a rare occurrence, to be sure, but recent accidents on the California Zephyr and the Downeaster—both caused by trucks colliding with trains—are unfortunate reminders that these incidents need to be prepared for. Amtrak’s first responders need to have an exact manifest of passengers; know who they should be looking for and how many people are unaccounted for. Currently, Amtrak’s emergency workers are forced to rely on a manifest of who bought tickets beforehand. But train stations aren’t like airports, with rigid and uniform passenger controls. They are often open, bustling centers of social and commercial activity or isolated rural outposts. People miss trains; or buy tickets on-board; or catch later trains with an unreserved ticket. Any delay that arises from the manual construction of a manifest from a loose assortment of ticket stubs is a delay that puts people at risk. For this reason, Amtrak should be applauded for developing this scanning capability on its perpetually inadequate capital budget.

As for other benefits of the portable ticket-scanning devices, only time will tell. But looking at how airlines use similar ticket-scanning technology—offering tickets that can be printed at home or carried on a smartphone—should make passengers cautiously optimistic for the coming years.



Date: 09/02/11 12:10
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: RevRandy

shoretower Wrote:
> It's time Amtrak joined the 20th Century.

yes, and joined the rest of the world. All over Europe, with the use of wireless devices, conductors can issue tickets, take credit cards, etc., right on board. Been doing it for years.

But this is the US. Here, at restaurants, we hand over our debit/credit cards which are mysteriously taken somewhere else for processing. In Europe, at the table processing is common, again using those wireless devices.

But, just like having to invent the ACELA trainsets because we couldn't use the off-the-shelf models from elsewhere, we have to do it all over again our own way.

Now, let's push the envelope even further -- since most modern smartphones can read barcodes, and most phones can display bar codes, why can't I just display my reservation for bar code reading and verification? Simple, no paper, . . . . o, wait, we haven't invented that yet according to US standards.

and from the other posting:

>Amtrak’s first responders need to have an exact manifest of passengers; know who they should be >looking for and how many people are unaccounted for. Currently, Amtrak’s emergency workers are >forced to rely on a manifest of who bought tickets beforehand.

OK - this might seem to be true, but when I am forced to travel more than a few hours in coach, I always buy myself an additional ticket for an accompanying child (1/2 price) so I can be assured of both seats to myself. So, that ticket would be scanned, and the responders will have the impression that a person exists who does not.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/02/11 12:16 by RevRandy.



Date: 09/02/11 12:11
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: GenePoon

The process looks forward to full implementation which will permit electronic ticketing but for the
problem faced by the original poster, it does nothing for now. It's just an "electronic ticket-taker.

But...it DOES look ahead..



Date: 09/02/11 12:14
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: DavidP

Pet peeve with me too. European operators have only been doing it for a decade or so, so why rush into something so "bleeding edge" here? I suspect it lacks the support of conductors in that it would take away one of the more time-consuming aspects of the job, possibly opening up questions as to why we need as many conductors. And Amtrak management isn't necessarily rewarded for thinking that way, so why push the issue?

Similarly, I'm also irritated that no one at Amtrak has ever figured out how to keep the snack bar open on LD trains, while letting the attendant get reasonable breaks. I've been told this is primarily to keep responsibility for cash and inventory in the hands of one individual. However, modern POS systems allow retailers and restaurants the world over to deal with this issue - why can't Amtrak?

Dave



Date: 09/02/11 12:26
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: NormSchultze

Amtrak can't deal with a lot of issues because they are starved of money and manpower. That is a political problem/issue.
It would be interesting to read the archives of the Acela decision making. Do you suppose that there was lobbying going on against European designed train sets ? NAW never.



Date: 09/02/11 12:41
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: Agt-Highland

As cash payers, where do you put the cash to get the boarding pass?...



Date: 09/02/11 12:41
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: Lackawanna484

This sounds similar to the wireless ticketing system being tested on the Long Island Rail Road's east end operations.

Here's an article from earlier this week with more background from an official Amtrak source

http://www.elliott.org/blog/amtrak-is-all-aboard-with-electronic-ticketing-in-2011/



Date: 09/02/11 12:46
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: Lackawanna484

Agt-Highland Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> As cash payers, where do you put the cash to get
> the boarding pass?...

Many kiosks are designed to accept and validate money deposits. Soda machines have been accepting bills of various amounts for at least 20 years, so it shouldn't be hard to build that functionality into a ticket issuing kiosk.

I wonder what % of Amtrak passengers carry a smart phone? and does that % change in highly traveled routes such as CA, NEC, etc?



Date: 09/02/11 12:53
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: hazegray

Agt-Highland Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> As cash payers, where do you put the cash to get
> the boarding pass?...


If you've flown lately, you already know that most airlines no longer accept cash in any form on the plane for food and beverages....use a credit card or go hungry. This solves a lot of the accounting issues. Likewise, in DC, the METRO parking lots will only accept credit cards, no cash.
Amtrak needs to go this way as well -- the sooner the better.



Date: 09/02/11 13:06
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: csxdispatcher

RevRandy Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

>
> Now, let's push the envelope even further -- since
> most modern smartphones can read barcodes, and
> most phones can display bar codes, why can't I
> just display my reservation for bar code reading
> and verification? Simple, no paper, . . . . o,
> wait, we haven't invented that yet according to US
> standards.
>
US standards? They have been in use for a couple years in the airline industry. Amtrak, as usual, is just behind the airlines....

http://www.laptopmag.com/business/travel/your-next-e-ticket.aspx

http://www.thetelecomblog.com/2010/03/16/have-smartphone-will-travel/
http://www.united.com/page/article/0,6722,66,00.html?navSource=itincheckin&linkTitle=mobileservices



Date: 09/02/11 13:40
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: joemagruder

The Downeaster test sounds like the system that has been in erratic use on the Capitol Corridor for several months. You hand the conductor your ticket, he scans it, and a device on his belt prints out the hat check. From the passenger's view it takes longer than the non-electronic process and doesn't do away with the ticket (yet). It probably simplifies accounting.

I'm going to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. Down on the San Joaquin, back on Greyhound. I made the Amtrak reservation on the computer and had to go pick up the ticket. I made the Greyhound reservation on the computer and printed out the ticket at home. If Greyhound can do it, why can't....



Date: 09/02/11 21:40
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: coach

joemagruder Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The Downeaster test sounds like the system that
> has been in erratic use on the Capitol Corridor
> for several months. You hand the conductor your
> ticket, he scans it, and a device on his belt
> prints out the hat check. From the passenger's
> view it takes longer than the non-electronic
> process and doesn't do away with the ticket (yet).
> It probably simplifies accounting.
>
> I'm going to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks.
> Down on the San Joaquin, back on Greyhound. I
> made the Amtrak reservation on the computer and
> had to go pick up the ticket. I made the
> Greyhound reservation on the computer and printed
> out the ticket at home. If Greyhound can do it,
> why can't....

Because, dear people, AMTRAK sucks. They just suck at doing things right. No vision, no leadership. It's that simple.



Date: 09/02/11 21:47
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: 567Chant

Soviet service
...Lorenzo



Date: 09/02/11 23:54
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: poffcapt

Lackawanna484 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Agt-Highland Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > As cash payers, where do you put the cash to
> get
> > the boarding pass?...
>
> Many kiosks are designed to accept and validate
> money deposits. Soda machines have been accepting
> bills of various amounts for at least 20 years, so
> it shouldn't be hard to build that functionality
> into a ticket issuing kiosk.
>

I carry a smart phone, but it is operated by a dummy!

BLS
> I wonder what % of Amtrak passengers carry a
> smart phone? and does that % change in highly
> traveled routes such as CA, NEC, etc?



Date: 09/03/11 04:33
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: timecruncher

A conductor I know out of Toledo tells me that he frequently boards large groups of Amish across northern Indiana and Ohio on 48/49 and 29/30, and while they have reservations, they generally pay in cash - hundreds of dollars of cash that must be processed as cash fares, with reciepts and such, and he must then turn all of that money in when he gets back to his home terminal.

I suppose that someone manages to use a phone to make the reservation (Waterloo does not have a ticket agent, ticket kiosk or even a building in which to wait!), but surely der parson won't allow someone to use a shiny printer to print out boarding passes...

timecruncher



Date: 09/03/11 06:25
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: shoretower

I've posted on this subject before on other railroad forums, and there's always somebody who points out that the Amish, or Eskimos, or Bigfoot, or somebody, will still pay in cash and therefore electronic ticketing won't work.

Well, it works for the airlines. It works for Greyhound. It works for Megabus (what a friend of mine calls "the hipster bus"). In fact, on the bus it's an advantage. It seems to screen out bag ladies, the homeless, people drinking from brown paper bags -- folks who might have a bit of cash, but don't have either a computer or a credit card.

If I had simply been able to print out my boarding passes at home, both I and Amtrak would have saved time and money.



Date: 09/03/11 06:29
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: colehour

timecruncher Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

>
> I suppose that someone manages to use a phone to
> make the reservation (Waterloo does not have a
> ticket agent, ticket kiosk or even a building in
> which to wait!), but surely der parson won't allow
> someone to use a shiny printer to print out
> boarding passes...

There are several flavors of Amish and some have telephones, though often not in the house. I have purchased meat processed by an Old Order Amish butcher who uses a generator to power his refrigeration equipment (so he can be state inspected and certified) -- that way he does not have to hook up the the grid. I suspect that not many of them would connect to the internet, however. Perhaps some of them could ask "English" friends or neighbors to make reservations and print tickets.



Date: 09/03/11 09:47
Re: Amtrak and Electronic Ticketing
Author: ats90mph

This issue has it's genesis with the NTSB. It has been one of their consistent recommendations for many years (similar to PTC). After major accidents Amtrak has no idea who is on the train when the tickets can't be found, causing issues with rescue agencies. The inconsistent passenger account following the accident near Ocala, Nev has brought this issue back up to the front burner.



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