This week I stumbled upon Transit Treasure, a mobile-phone based application that enhances the buying power of citizens who ride public transit while promoting businesses along transit lines through targeted discounts and advertising. They’re billing it as a “loyalty rewards program for public transit riders,” much like a frequent flyer program but with merchants offering rewards rather than the transit provider. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/21540915 w=400&h=225]
There are three main steps to making Transit Treasure work for you. First, you ride and record your use of public transit. This can happen through a mobile app or by filling out a form that is emailed to you weekly. Thirty rides in one month earn you 100 “Transit Miles.” Second, spend at least $30 with a participating merchant (these include online merchants like GAP, JC Penney, Office Depot, and Target.com, though Transit Treasure notes that they would like to expand to local merchants as soon as possible). Once spending $30, your 100 Transit Miles are yours; any dollar above $30 spent is converted into an additional Transit Mile. Third, at the end of the month, Transit Miles are converted to cash and paid to you through PayPal.
Transit Treasure is available in several U.S. cities, including large metro areas like Washington, DC, Miami, Chicago, and New York, but also in smaller cities like Raleigh and Nashville.
While I don’t think this app will encourage new ridership by itself, and while it will drive rewards dollars out of the local economy to online retailers, I think it has promise. First, if they do as they say, brick-and-mortar local businesses could join the game, attracting transit riders who likely walk or bike directly by their business daily. Imagine a “Transit Treasure” sticker in shop windows, much like Yelp stickers do today. This small step could be what Transit Treasure needs to start attracting new riders to transit. The more riding transit is publicized (in a positive light) and the more the private sector is motivated to do so, the more likely it is that people will start considering it as a viable option.
- Terra Curtis