Innovation: Mobile ticketing platform
Even in an ideal scenario, inserting $6.50 into the cash box on a Milwaukee County bus can be a time intensive process. Inserting a $5 bill, a $1 bill and two quarters can take as long as 15 seconds.
With thousands of people taking the bus from park-and-rides to Summerfest each year, those few seconds can add up quickly. Throw in the potential for crinkled money or machine issues, along with dozens of people riding each bus, and a clear problem starts to develop.
“We had this very cash- intensive way to get on the buses and that takes a very long time,” said Brendan Conway, Milwaukee County Transit System spokesman.
In 2015, 98 percent of the bus rides to Summerfest were purchased with cash.
But during the Big Gig’s 2016 run, a new mobile ticketing option accounted for 25 percent of all rides. The option was designed, built and hosted by Tixora LLC, a Milwaukee-based startup specializing in online ticketing and transportation mobile apps.
The company was founded in 2014 and the MCTS contract marked one of Tixora’s first big projects. Co-founder Aaron Redlich was able to connect with MCTS managing director Dan Boehm at a conference in late 2015 and the two groups soon began working on a possible solution.
Redlich said it took a few meetings to truly gauge the size of the project. Once they understood it, Tixora’s team set about building a mobile ticketing offering and an app to validate the tickets on the bus.
The result was a system that replaced the 15 or more seconds spent handling cash with just a few seconds scanning the mobile ticket.
Still, MCTS had to trust a startup founded by three recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduates to handle the pressure of one of the highest profile uses of MCTS throughout the year.
“We tested it like crazy,” Conway said.
Redlich said the company ran the system through a month-and-a-half of testing to work out any bugs. Conway said MCTS was confident in the system when it announced a promotion, called Pre>Fare, offering a cheaper bus fare and free Summerfest ticket to encourage use of the mobile platform.
Both said they were pleased with how well the system worked. Redlich said with 30,000 tickets sold on the website, there were no server side errors. Conway said he wasn’t aware of any technical issues occurring. One of the biggest problems was drained batteries on the iPads used to scan tickets.
“It was remarkable how smoothly it went,” Conway said.
He said MCTS plans to use Pre>Fare and mobile ticketing again next year, although changes are likely as technology continues to evolve.
In the meantime, Tixora plans to continue to build on the experiences learned through Pre>Fare and UW Bus, an app that offers real-time bus arrival information and route planning details for Madison buses.
The app has 15,000 downloads and 5,000 active users, Redlich said. In building it, he said the company learned how important the user interface and user experience are to the adoption of an app.
“There’s kind of a rush to make the most feature-filled application that you can do,” he said, suggesting if there are too many features or if they don’t work, people won’t use the app.
“There’s a very delicate balance,” Redlich said.
At the same time, he said, many transit companies still rely on large maps posted at bus stops or online. Tixora believes there is an opportunity for transit providers to reach out to younger riders on their phones.
Redlich also wants Tixora to continue its efforts in mobile ticketing. He said there are a lot of niche markets in need of customized services both inside and outside the transportation realm.
“There really isn’t something like this out there in the sense it is completely customizable by our team,” he said. “You don’t always get that same level of service.”
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