BART gives riders some credit 

The BART logo has officially reached America’s favorite shopping tool — the credit card.

On Sunday, BART officials announced the transit system’s first passenger-incentive program — a credit card that accumulates points with each purchase. Cardholders earn five points for each $1 spent toward BART tickets and parking fees, two points for each $1 spent at ticket agencies, live-entertainment venues and tourist attractions, and one point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

When points start to rack up, cardholders can cash in: 2,500 points earns a $25 BART ticket, 4,500 points earns a $48 ticket, and 6,000 points earns a $64 ticket. Cardholders can redeem points for cash, too — 5,000 points earns a $50 check and 10,000 points earns a $100 check.

"It works much like the airlines’ credit cards, but better," said Dorothy Dugger, BART’s acting general manager. "Our card is much more generous."

Lynette Sweet, president of BART’s board of directors, said the transit system — which carried 97 million passengers in 2006 and expects to carry more than 100 million this year — has long been looking to offer its regular riders an incentive program.

BART, however, relies heavily on revenue from fare boxes and cannot afford to give away free passes, so it has offered gift cards to Peet’s Coffee, Jamba Juice and bookstores instead. While most transit agencies rely on taxes and government subsidies to operate, about 60 percent of BART’s operating budget comes from fares.

A rewards credit card was a viable option for BART because the program will not cost BART or riders, Sweet said. JPMorgan Chase and Co. will pick up the tab for the free tickets.

"It’s not making us a dime, but that doesn’t matter," Sweet said. "Our customers will get rewards for doing what they do all the time, which is riding BART."

JPMorgan Chase and Co., which sponsors more than 150 million credit cards throughout the world, will benefit financially from the BART MasterCard, Sweet said.

That is precisely why some consumer-advocacy organizations advise people to read the fine print before signing up for rewards cards — about 85 percent of American households have at least one, according to San Francisco-based Consumer Action.

The organization says people should know that most rewards cards have limits on how many points can be accumulated and when they have to be used. The BART card allows people to accumulate 1,500 points each billing cycle, and points have to be used within three years.

On Sunday, Sweet presented her version of a MasterCard "priceless" commercial: Gas and parking for a trip to the movies: $20; Tickets, popcorn and drinks for family of four: $80; Paying for everything with a BART MasterCard: Priceless.

"OK, it needs some work," Sweet said.

The new BART MasterCard

Card details:

» MasterCard only

» No annual fee

» Zero percent interest for first six months, adjustable rate after that

Point costs

» $1 spent on BART tickets and parking earns 5 points

» $1 spent on "BARTable" events, such as concerts, sports events and amusement parks, earns 2 points

» $1 spent on all other purchases earns 1 point

Point redemption

» 2,500 points earns a $25 BART ticket

» 4,500 points earns a $48 BART ticket

» 6,000 points earns a $64 BART ticket

» 5,000 points earns a $50 check

» 10,000 points earns a $100 check

arocha@examiner.com


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