Amtrak plans onboard credit sales
By Paul Nussbaum
Staff Writer-Philadelphia Inquirer
January 6, 2009 - To speed onboard ticket sales, Amtrak is planning to buy 2,000 credit-card readers for conductors to use to sell tickets.
Amtrak still will require most passengers to have a ticket before boarding a train, if ticket windows are open or ticket machines are available at the station where they board. Also, onboard purchases will not be permitted on reservation-only trains such as the Acela.
But for passengers who board at stations such as North Philadelphia or Cornwells Heights, where there are no ticket clerks or machines, the card readers will speed the process. They will allow conductors to swipe a passenger's credit card and get immediate authorization for the transaction. Currently, onboard credit card sales are manual, cumbersome transactions, without an online authorization.
"This should make the transaction faster and more customer-friendly," said Sara Brown, director of credit cards for Amtrak. And, she said, the new machines will save Amtrak money.
Onboard sales represent a "very, very small" share of Amtrak's total ticket sales, and "we are not doing this to increase onboard sales," Brown said.
The rail line hopes to award a contract for the card readers by the end of next month, said Nick Troiano, who is in charge of their procurement for Amtrak. After a pilot program, the machines are expected to be available throughout the Amtrak system by the end of the summer, Brown said.
The card readers are a step toward Amtrak's goal of ticketless travel within two or three years, said spokesman Cliff Black. Eventually, Amtrak hopes to equip its conductors with electronic scanners to read bar-coded boarding passes that passengers can print at home.
Amtrak officials declined to say how much they expect to pay for the card readers.
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