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An E-Z Way to Get a Lot More People Using EZ Pass

This weekend, after living in NYC for seven years, we got an EZ Pass. As we whizzed by a toll line on the RFK bridge that was a good fifteen minutes long, my wife asked “Why didn’t we have one of these before?”

I answered, “Because they haven’t built EZ Pass to make it easy for people to get them.”

EZ Pass is so cool – it’s a city tech person’s dream app. Put a little bar code in the window of each car, and instead of making everyone wait to pay their toll at each toll booth, they cruise on through without stopping. Cameras read the bar code as the car passes, and the car’s owner gets charged electronically. Beautiful.

But for a system that’s so well designed to improve throughput and efficiency, they haven’t thought through their user acquisition tactics very well.

Here’s how the acquisition process works for EZ Pass: you sit in traffic at a toll booth, waiting to get to the front of the line while someone 5, 10 or 15 cars ahead of you fishes for a quarter in his pocket to pay his toll. You crawl along, checking your email on your phone while people in the lane to your left speed by with their EZ Passes in their window. Then you get to the front of the line, pay the man, and take off driving again. As you accelerate (and merge), you see a billboard out of the corner of your eye that says “EZ Pass: visit e-zpassNY.com”

By then of course driving down the road at 70 mph. You’re also on to the next thing, whatever that may be: thinking about whether to get off the road to grab a coffee, wondering how long it’s going to take to get to your destination, etc. You’re NOT thinking about that toll booth line anymore – that problem belonged to five minutes ago.

And by the time you get to your destination? Forget it. EZ Passes, and that toll booth line, have faded from the mind entirely.

So you don’t get the EZ Pass.

And seven years goes by.

The whole problem comes down to where they’re placing that billboard. Putting it after the tollbooth is no good at all. The pain is gone at that point. EZ Pass needs to be grabbing their new customers while they’re still in pain. While the problem that EZ Pass is solving still exists for them.

If they put the billboard before the toll booth, with an 800 number to call or a website to hit, and allow people to enter their address and credit card and have a pass sent to their home right then and there, I can confidently say they would see much higher adoption of EZ Pass, beginning right away, and continuing all the way till… ?

Even better: devise some way to let people skip out of the line they’re in immediately, once they buy their EZ Pass. That would drive adoption through the roof.

EZ Pass needs to help people solve their problem when it’s still a problem, not after it’s no longer a problem.

There are lots of little (and big) mistakes like this in product interactions everywhere, lowering adoption, raising barriers to use. Sometimes they’re relatively easy to fix. And sometimes fixing them can make a huge difference.

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Sam Allgood

One possible way to allow that immediate benefit of getting out of the line would be to connect the pass to your cell phone’s GPS and have that somehow read when going through the toll. A QRCode on the billboard would also help to expedite that process. Could further simplify the process by billing tolls to your cell phone bill, eliminating the need to key in your credit card number.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Great idea, @John.

@Sam brings up another point – somehow find a way to “advertise” on people’s bills…when they’re sitting at home…or at the gas pump…