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BART pilot program to test frequent flyer
rewards system

By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service

October 14, 2006

Bay Area Rapid Transit will begin Monday to select customers for a pilot program involving prepaid "flash passes,'' as the agency considers new ways to reward loyal riders.

BART is considering offering discounts to regular customers through a flash pass or "smart card" fare payment system, agency spokesman Linton Johnson said yesterday.

"We're looking at all kinds of different options to give our loyal riders rewards," he said.

Benefits could include free trips and any other bonuses that would reward regular customers, he said.

A pilot program with 250 customers, who will be selected beginning Monday, will study the use of prepaid passes that allow a rider to pass through BART gates without having to buy new tickets or refresh old ones.

Riders would simply swipe the pass over a reader on top of the fare gate.

The system would function much like the Fastrak automatic toll collection system on bridges, Johnson said. Dashboard-mounted Fastrak transponders allow drivers to pass through toll gates and pay electronically without stopping to hand money to a toll collector. The transponders can be replenished automatically with payments charged to a credit card.

The BART pilot program will probably begin within a month, Johnson said.

"We want to test it until we're comfortable that it works," he said.

Under the pilot scheme, pass users will put $48 onto a smart card, which, linked to a credit card, would also automatically replenish once the balance drops to a certain amount, like $10, Johnson said.

Currently BART riders can buy high-value tickets at $45 that provide $48 worth of rides, a 6.25 percent discount, he said. But the paper tickets have to be replenished in person at ticket machines. Johnson said the agency hopes the smart card will create a larger pool of loyal BART riders.

Only around half of BART's 330,000 daily passengers use the system on a regular basis, four or five days a week, and smart cards would have the advantage of not requiring a rider to travel five days a week to accrue bonuses, he said.

Some 2 million of the Bay Area's 7 million residents ride BART at least once a year.

The smart cards could also be used to pay for parking at BART stations.

Johnson said that BART's ridership pattern and the fact that the agency receives around 60 percent of its revenue from fares mean that a pass that expires at the end of each calendar month is not a feasible option for the agency.

Unlike BART, many other transit agencies receive as much as 70-90 percent of their revenue from taxes, he said.

Monthly passes, which do not generally produce revenue for transit agencies but which have the advantage of helping retain riders, are better options for systems in which trips are all short or all long in length, he said.

Pilot program participants will probably be identified by BART's marketing department, he said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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