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MTS Launching Mobile Ticketing App — With Limits

An MTS ticket bought with the new Compass Cloud app is displayed on a phone s...

Photo by Andrew Bowen / KPBS

Above: An MTS ticket bought with the new Compass Cloud app is displayed on a phone screen, March 9, 2017.

The Metropolitan Transit System this month is launching a new mobile ticketing app meant to make it easier and more convenient for passengers to pay bus and trolley fares.

The app, called Compass Cloud, is being launched on March 30. It will allow passengers to buy daily or monthly passes for MTS and the North County Transit District, but it will not offer single-ride tickets on the bus or trolley.

Spokesman Rob Schupp said the single-ride ticket was not part of the initial launch because the tickets could theoretically be used more than once. MTS does not allow free transfers between bus routes, or between buses and trolleys. Passengers who need a transfer have to pay two separate fares, or purchase a day pass.

"We're rolling this out in phases, and we're making sure that it all gets done right," Schupp said. "So in the future we may have those one-ways. But (the app) really does increase the convenience for day passes and monthlies."

The app has the capability to sell single-ride tickets, but MTS is waiting to allow them until the transfer issue is resolved. The app will eventually have a way to plan trips on the bus and rail system and integrate that with a passenger's ticket purchase, Schupp said.

Video by Katie Schoolov

The Metropolitan Transit System is launching a new app that aims to make it easier and more convenient for passengers to pay bus and trolley fares. But for people who ride public transit just once in a day, the app won't be much help.

Mobile ticketing apps are increasingly popular with public transit systems seeking to attract more tech-savvy millennial riders. Cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and New York all have their own ticket apps, and they all offer single-ride tickets.

Colin Parent, policy counsel for the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, said he was disappointed the app didn't offer riders the flexibility to take the bus or trolley just once in a day.

"That doesn't square with the notion that we should be allowing more people to get on the system who are not regular riders," he said. "If you want to get downtown using a single trip from, say, North Park or La Mesa, and then plan to take an Uber or Lyft home, or a taxi, that should be an option."

MTS board members approved the contract for the app nearly a year ago and its launch was initially scheduled for last summer, but it was delayed because of a challenge from a company that lost the bid to develop the app.

Occasional transit riders will eventually have the option to store money on MTS's fare card, the Compass Card, and use their balance to pay for single rides. The function, called "stored value," was part of the initial plans for the Compass Card nearly a decade ago, but it has been repeatedly delayed. Schupp said MTS is still working out some technical glitches and does not yet have a hard launch date.

A KPBS investigation last year revealed that the Compass Card system was not in compliance with the data security standards set by the credit card industry, meaning personal data belonging to transit riders may be vulnerable to hackers. MTS inherited the problem from the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG, which originally developed the Compass Card.

The data security gaps do not apply to the new mobile ticketing app. Schupp said the Compass Card system is still out of compliance with the standards, but that staff are working on the issue.

"The hurdle (of compliance) keeps on getting higher as you move forward," he said. "It's an ever-changing kind of goal. But we're very diligent, and we're working toward it."

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