With mobile-payment options available for New York taxi, subway or train riders, it was only a matter of time before the city's ferry boats offered a similar plan.

New York Waterway is offering a free mobile-payment application for Google Inc. Android, and Apple Inc. iPhone or iPad devices. Through the app, ferry users create an electronic version of a paper ticket through an account tied to a credit card, the company announced Jan. 6.

The company continues to evaluate new payment technologies as they evolve, says Waterway spokesperson Damiano DeMonte.

While wanting to stay at the forefront of mobile payments, New York Waterway also views the mobile application as an informative travel-planning tool and as a convenient payment method for ferry riders, DeMonte says. The application provides ferry riders with schedules and options for mapping a trip through the city, he adds.

After downloading the application, consumers must register a username and password with New York Waterway to establish an account before submitting a credit card number to link to the account, the company stated.

Consumers can select starting and ending locations when purchasing one-way, all-day or monthly tickets. Users store purchased tickets in their accounts and show a ticket on the phone display to a New York Waterway employee at the ferry station.

The company did not project how many ferry riders eventually would use the application before it developed the software, but it considers the payment option "an ongoing program to inform both current riders and new customers about the availability of mobile ticketing," DeMonte says.

New York Waterway plans to add features to the application to enable marketing partners or nearby neighborhood businesses to promote events or discounts for travelers, DeMonte adds.

In addition, the company plans to create an advisory page on the mobile application that would allow "push notifications," or weather alerts and schedule-change alerts, to users, DeMonte notes.

"The push notifications would allow us to send information to customers similar to a text message or email," DeMonte says. "The application will also have tighter integration with Google maps to help commuters better know their options for using New York Waterway in conjunction with other transit agencies in New York City."

The application also provides a customer service number and access to the New York Waterway website.

VeriFone Systems Inc. has provided hardware and software for a similar ticket and transit tracking system for New York buses since last July.

Any transportation company in a big city offering a mobile payment and electronic ticketing plan provides a benefit to travelers, if other transportation agencies within the city also offer similar plans, says Brian Riley, senior research director and analyst with Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup.

"Mass-transit agencies are going to mobile-payment options as a way to replace cash, and that is appealing to the riders," he says.

The increased exposure to mobile payments further highlights an important issue facing the payments industry regarding payments for less-expensive items such as ferryboat ride tickets, Riley adds. No one is certain what Visa Inc. or MasterCard Worldwide intends to do about debit-interchange fees for small-ticket items in the wake of the Durbin amendment, he notes.

Riley points out the vending industry first questioned the fee limits because it affected profit margins on the sales of small-ticket items at cashless vending machines.

New York Waterway, owned by Billybey Ferry Co. LLC and Port Imperial Ferry Corp., serves 35,000 consumers daily on New York's East River and travels between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The company operates 33 boats along 21 routes along the river.