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BART Tests Fare/Meal Mobile Deal

By Apr 01, 2009

Hungry public transit riders in San Francisco may soon get help getting to their next fast food fix.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system ran a four-month test of a mobile marketing system allowing riders to use cell phones to pay their fares, find nearby Jack in the Box restaurants and pay for those meals electronically in the store.

The program has the potential to help transit agencies lower their costs by eliminating plastic or cardboard fare cards; and it gives marketers a new medium to reach mass audiences, says Tom Savage, vice president of business development for First Data Corp., which developed the system with Vivotech and Sprint.

To get participants, BART solicited through ads in local publications and on its monthly fare cards, as well as via e-mail.

“We were able to enroll about 230 or so to register,” says Savage. “Sprint provided the cell phones — a Samsung handset with a near-field communication (NFC) chip embedded within it. Vivotech provided the wallet software in the operating system.”

Users could locate nearby Jack in the Box outlets via subway posters that “spoke” to their phones’ NFC chips. It was unclear how much the trial helped drive sales at Jack in the Box.

“In terms of the trial itself, I wouldn’t necessarily say they got anything out of it. But I would say there’s a tremendous amount of potential for them to garner benefits out of mobile commerce,” says Savage. “Jack in the Box will be able to lower the cost of transactions, and there are opportunities to tie loyalty programs to the cell phone and send coupons to buy burgers and fries.”

First Data did report that trial participants took close to 9,000 trips on BART during the trial, representing an average of 50 trips per participant.

In addition, participants topped up their BART card balances more than 800 times using the over-the-air feature of their NFC-equipped phones, averaging five fare refills per user during the trial.

“Worldwide there have been numerous pilots [of this technology],” says Savage. “In 2010 and 2011, you’ll start to see some significant announcements around commercialization of this technology.”