McDonald's Tests Cashless Fast Food

ByABC News
May 29, 2001, 11:31 AM

B O I S E, Idaho, May 29 -- McDonald's wants to make fast food even faster.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based restaurant chain is monitoring closelya marketing test that lets its patrons use a tiny, gray plasticwand to pay for meals, instead of cash.

The concept, while novel, is by no means new, but McDonald's,which is testing it in 26 locations in Boise, thinks it might be agood idea.

More than 2,000 people have signed up for the program, which,essentially, gives them the convenience of waving the wand in frontof an electronic sensor to pay for a meal. There's no fumbling forloose change or looking for smaller bills.

"Fast food is not fast anymore," says Jerry McVety, thepresident of McVety & Associates, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-basedfood service consulting group.

E-ZPass, Easy Meal

If the concept sounds familiar, it is. The same technology isincreasingly used to let commuters breeze through toll plazas.

A version called E-ZPass has garnered more than 6 million usersin and around New York City. The system, much like the oneMcDonald's is testing, lets users roll through toll plazas at 5mph.

E-ZPass transponders, which deduct tolls from a prepaid account,are affixed to the windshield behind a vehicle's rearview mirror.They are now used in seven states including Pennsylvania, WestVirginia, Massachusetts, Maryland and Delaware.

On the George Washington Bridge that spans the Hudson Riverbetween New York City and New Jersey, 78 percent of drivers use thecashless system, says Walter Kristlibas, E-ZPass director for thePort Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Consumers often resist new technologies, but if they save time,they tend to become popular. Electronic toll payment systems havecaught on from the Oklahoma Turnpike to Argentina.

'Load' Your Account

The McDonald's trial electronic payment program in Chicago,which McVety says has proved popular, works with Speedpass, asystem developed three years ago by Mobil for use at its gas pumpsand which the company is now offering other businesses.