The ‘Buy Stuff with a Tollbooth Transponder’ Idea Is Picking Up Steam

Imagine a mega-system of interoperable tollbooth transponders -- and an accompanying smartphone app -- emerging as a dark horse in the mobile payments race.

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Now that’s more like it. Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a piece for this very site called They Should Make It: Buy Stuff With a Tollbooth Transponder in which I envisioned a future where the tollbooth transponders that are stuck to many a windshield could someday be used to pay for stuff other than tolls:

So with this mythical new system, you could dump $500 per month in [your account] and use it for gas, fast food, and Applebee’s Curbside to Go or whatever it’s called.

Since May 4, 2010, when the article first went live, there’s been a lot of movement in the mobile payments space. “Pay for things with a tap of your phone!” is the promise, though there are currently so many different systems in play by banks, wireless carriers and others that retail adoption hasn’t exactly exploded. But a fair number of people already have similar technology stuck to their windshields – why not leverage it more?

Fast Company has a piece quoting E-Z Pass executive director PJ Wilkins, who reveals that the ability to use E-Z Pass to pay for things other than tolls might be getting more widespread. You can apparently already pay for parking with your transponder at “major airports in New York and New Jersey” according to the article.

But here’s the kicker:

Perhaps most promising though? A number of years back, E-Z Pass did a pilot project with McDonald’s, which was interested in seeing if the system could streamline payments at drive-through restaurants. For a brief time, at five or so locations in New York, customers could pay for Big Macs via E-Z Pass, but ultimately, says Wilkins, “McDonald’s decided to go a different route.” The problem was that McDonald’s wanted to settle payments daily, whereas E-Z Pass and other toll authorities typically settle transactions on a weekly basis. “Our whole system wasn’t developed to do fast food,” Wilkins says. “If we’re going to get into that type of market–and I’m not saying we won’t–we’re going to have to get into our back-office processes.”

Still, it’s likely in the future that as the technology evolves, such payment solutions could be accessed at restaurants or utilized for other drive-in or drive-through applications.

Get into your back-office processes then, boyo! We’re hungry and lazy and pulling our wallets out of our back pockets while sitting in a car seat requires far too much effort.

As for the fact that the mish-mash of tollbooth systems across the country aren’t yet compatible with one another, Fast Company points out that a new law requires the systems to work with one another by 2016. Wilkins also mentions that the ability to use your smartphone as a tollbooth transponder is being tested by various companies.

Now wouldn’t it be interesting if once all the tollbooth systems are interoperable, this mega-system emerged as a dark horse in the mobile payments race? You’d this almost-nationwide payment system attached to all these windshields and loaded onto a bunch of smartphones as well.

E-Z Pass Payments For Tolls, Parking, And Big Macs? [Fast Company]