In an effort to reduce long ticket lines and cash transactions on their trains, Metro-North Railroad is encouraging passengers to visit WebTicket, a service that allows travelers to order train tickets online up to eight weeks prior to travel.
Metro-North, which connects New York City with its northern suburbs, is the second-largest rail line in the United States. It provides more than 240,000 trips each weekday and about 71 million trips per year.
“Last year we had $50 million in cash transactions on board the trains,” said Genevieve Firnhaber, executive vice president at Metro-North Railroad. “It's an open system and if that's the only way people can buy the tickets, that's the way they buy tickets.”
While the ticket windows at New York City's Grand Central Terminal are open during the railroad's hours of operations, many Metro-North stations do not have ticket offices. Ticket offices can be found at many suburban stations, but they are not open continuously. Passengers without tickets who board trains at stations where ticket offices are open are charged an additional $2.
Passengers can order tickets online by logging on to mta.nyc.ny.us and clicking on the WebTicket icon to buy weekly, 10-trip, one-way and special event tickets using a credit card. Orders must be at least $5 and cannot exceed $400. Tickets are mailed in three to five business days. There is no charge for postage. Passengers interested in monthly tickets click on the Mail&Ride icon to print an application.
WebTicket debuted in January without any advertising and produced $500 per day in sales. After a story was published in Mileposts, the railroad's monthly newsletter that is placed on the trains' seats, sales now average $2,000 per day. Ten-trip tickets produce most of the sales.
“To date we've done about $20,000,” Firnhaber said. “Our goal is several million a year. It's clearly a repeat business.”
The high volume of 10-trip sales through WebTicket indicates fewer cash transactions on trains because 10-trip customers are most likely to purchase tickets on the trains, according to Firnhaber.
“If someone comes to our site and says they want 10 one-way tickets, our site will get back to them and tell them of the deal for the 10-trip, which is the same as paying for nine,” Firnhaber said.
“Our conductors' primary jobs are for safety and customer service,” Firnhaber said. “They are certainly also having to carry out these cash transactions, but it's kind of a hindrance. Plus, the accounting for it takes a long time. Our conductors can actually do customer service if they are not being bothered with selling tickets.”