Riding the bus to work, out to dinner, or back home has become a mobile affair.
What used to be a daily search for my plastic metro card, or from more than a decade ago my monthly paper pass, has turned into yet another tap on my smartphone screen. Bus access has been digitized.
In the same way I hail a taxi by pushing a few buttons on my phone, I can now order tickets for a 90-minute bus or light-rail rides. It’s all thanks to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which introduced a dedicated mobile ticketing app two years ago.
Now, when I enter, I click on the transit app and buy a ticket that’s linked to my commuter credit card. Done, easy. I don’t even really think about it.
In the past year, I’ve fully converted. Except… there are issues.
Convenience comes at a cost. Now, my smartphone has invaded my once peaceful wait for the bus. I’m bothered that even riding the bus is forces me onto my phone. I once went a month with my phone set in grayscale just to reduce time on the device, yet here I am using the phone for the simplest activity.
My resistance to the app at first was centered around something that was purely analog had been turned into another app, another reason to keep my phone in my hand. Yup, there’s an app for that. And yup, I’ve been sucked into using it.
Time away from my phone is shrinking and has crept into my entire commute. Taking the bus and subway used to be a space where I could keep my phone away if I wanted. That’s long gone. It’s just too easy.
Masabi, the mobile ticketing company that powers transit systems in major cities like Boston and Los Angeles, is all about turning passengers like me from relying on passes and paper tickets to an app. It makes app integrations like the one it recently announced with Uber possible — I’m on my phone and ready to keep using it for the rest of my journey.
The company recently surveyed mass transit ridership behavior in North America. More than one third of survey respondents combine ride-hailing apps with public transit occasionally, while 7 percent combine the two travel methods weekly. But personal cars still prevail: 70 percent of respondents still drive themselves around each week.
In Masabi’s report released last week, the company found that convenience is the main motivator for people deciding whether to ride public transit or not. This trumps price, time, and necessity.
“You do that by providing a seamless passenger experience,” Masabi head of marketing James Gooch said in a call. “Payments are seamless.”
That’s what switched me over — mobile ticketing was a simple and easy process. I put in my credit card information once, I can store a bundle of tickets for quick clicking, and I can even buy a second ticket for a friend traveling along with me. No more searching for quarters to make the exact fare. I didn’t even notice it was putting me on phone for yet another reason until I was literally chasing down the bus one morning and still my phone was practically glued to my hand.
Apps powered by a service like Masabi become as easy and effortless to use as other apps with in-app purchases streamlined into the product. That convenience creates a habit. It’s not a bad habit necessarily, but it’s scary to think how quickly I changed my purchasing patterns because of a convenient app. And this isn’t a mindless app like Twitter that sucks away my time, this takes real money with a simple button that I can click almost too easily.
It makes it guaranteed you’ll see me at the bus stop next week, phone in hand.