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Got to add 35 miles to the motorcycle log this partly sunny Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t as sunny as forecasted but still a very nice day. I am not much of a naturalist but the leaves in New England this time of year are beautiful. My ride took me to Home Depot and Stu Leonard’s to pick up a few necessities and then across I-84 and down Route 7. The last stop on the way home was at the Mobil station to get some gas. For some reason, my Speedpass didn’t work. After getting home I went to their web site to see if there was information on what to do about the problem and their web site didn’t work either. No excuse for a major outfit like this to have their site down — but I’ll forgive them this time. I called and the customer service representative was very nice. She told me that the expected life of a Speedpass car tag is two to three years. I have had mine since May 1998 — one of my early gadgets — so it is likely that it is time for replacement.

In spite of my problem today, I think Speedpass is a really great thing. It definitely saves time when getting gas — especially when on a motorcycle. Speedpass works using an RF (radio frequency) signal similar to WiFi. The system has an antenna and a transponder. There are two types of transponders — one that attaches to your rear windshield and one that you can attach to a key ring. The transponder delivers a serial number to the Speedpass system and then a database lookup tells them which credit card you specified at enrollment. Your charges show up just like any other charges to your card.

The potential of Speedpass seems extraordinary to me. I have been wondering why it wasn’t able to be used at places other than Mobil — and now Exxon — but now my wondering is over. Stop & Shop Supermarkets and Speedpass have announced that they will be testing Speedpass at select stores this fall (2002). Additionally, Speedpass will be introducing a new feature enabling customers to link their Stop & Shop loyalty card to their Speedpass. One wave will do it all! When customers use Speedpass, they will instantly and automatically get Stop & Shop discounts and rewards while simultaneously paying for their purchase. With Speedpass, shopping at Stop & Shop should be fast, easy and convenient.

Some other interesting Speedpass tests are underway. In the Chicago and Orlando areas you can pay for car washes at 16 Mobil stations. At more than 440 Chicago area McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago and Northwest Indiana you can get a Big Mac or a Happy Meal – both inside and at the drive-thru . Customers simply order their menu selections and point their Speedpass at the countertop reader or at the drive-thru reader. The familiar “Golden Arches”™ will illuminate, and customers can pick up their order and enjoy their meal or snack. Speedpass recently completed a limited test of the new Speedpass-enabled Timex Watch in Chicago. The new Speedpass-enabled watch looks and functions just like a regular watch. However, inside the timepiece is a miniature Speedpass radio frequency transponder that allows customers to instantly pay for purchases at Exxon and Mobil gasoline stations nationwide and at select Chicagoland McDonald’s restaurants. Customers in the test could pay for purchases by simply positioning their watch in front of an electronic reader located at the pump, the checkout counter or the drive-thru window. I think having Speedpass physically attached to you offers a security advantage.

The convenience of Speedpass can lure you into a false sense of security. The Speedpass reader receives a code that is unique for each Speedpass transponder. Your credit card and other confidential account information is not stored in your Speedpass transponder. However, it is really important to safeguard your transponder. If you leave your car unlocked and someone steals it — they also get free gas! Losing your key ring. Speedpass means that anyone finding it can go buy a large grocery supply. It is also a good idea to be cautious in situations when you drop off your car for valet parking or for car repair service. No PIN is required to use a Speedpass. It is automatically authenticated just be its physical presence. Convenient but dangerous if you aren’t careful.

You can enroll in Speedpass online at Speedpass.com.