New Haven’s “All-Access Pass” Debuts

Thomas MacMillan PhotoOn his last day on the job, departing city traffic tsar Jim Travers unveiled a first: a new card for shopping, dining, and parking in the city and a new way for New Haven to “brand” itself as a destination city.

Travers (pictured) Monday afternoon unveiled “Shop•Dine•Park,” a gift card that works like a debit card—and can only be used in New Haven.

Travers said he took the idea from mall gift cards—gift certificates that can be redeemed at any store in a mall. The Shop•Dine•Park works the same way, except the “mall” is all of New Haven, and you can use it to pay for parking, too.

“We’re really, really, really super excited about this program,” Travers said.

It’s a way to continue to establish the city as shopping and dining destination. City officials said the card is likely the first of its kind in the country. It took Travers and his team two years to make the card happen, in part because of a complication caused by the Patriot Act.

The Shop•Dine•Park card (pictured) is a Discover-based card, acceptable wherever that company’s credit cards are accepted. The cards are available exclusively at the Info New Haven storefront at the corner of College and Chapel streets. They cost $3.95, plus however much money you want to put on the card.

By the spring, they’ll be available online and will have a couple of new features, including the ability to add more money to your card. Travers said the Shop•Dine•Park will eventually merge with the city’s municipal ID cards.

The new card also has the potential to give downtown merchants a new way to contact their customers. For instance, in the second phase of the card’s roll-out, people who dine at, say, Meat & Co. sandwich shop might receive a text message alert about a sandwich deal when they use their card to pay for parking in New Haven.

That will be an option only if people choose to register a phone number when they buy a card. People won’t have to hand over any personal information.

Travers said he first began working on the on the gift card idea when the city phased out its Parxmart card, with which people could pay for parking downtown. Parxmart’s small but loyal following in New Haven let Travers know that they wanted another way to pay for parking, beyond using change or a credit card.

Travers wanted to issue municipal gift cards, but he didn’t want to collect people’s social security numbers, as the Patriot Act requires credit card companies to do. Eventually, with the help of a company called ParkEasy, Travers found a way to create a “semi-closed loop card”—halfway between a credit card usable everywhere and a gift card usable at only one store.

At a Monday press conference at the Shubert Theater, Mayor Toni Harp said the card has made her think of New Haven as “a sort of urban theme park” with the new card as a “pre-paid all-access pass.”

Travers said the card keeps dollars local. The cards are purchased here and the money can only be spent here. For instance, Travers said, if someone gave him a $500 The Shop•Dine•Park card, he could go to the Apple store on Broadway and get a new iPhone. But he couldn’t use the card at the Apple store in Danbury.

Travers suggested that a parent could buy the card for her child, to use while the youngster is studying at one of New Haven’s universities. Through the ParkEasy website, the parent would be able to track what the child is buying and, when new features rollout in the spring, add money to the card.

Win Davis (pictured), head of the Town Green Special Services District, said the card “will be a wonderful opportunity for everyone to give the gift of New Haven.”

“It’s awesome,” said John Giannetti, owner of Meat & Co. and 116 Crown. “I’m psyched.”

Giannetti said he’s looking forward to using the card to help him to keep contact with people who eat at his restaurants. When they use the card, he’ll be able to collect their phone numbers, if they choose.

Travers announced the card on his very last day as transportation chief. It was his “last hurrah,” he said.

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posted by: SteveOnAnderson on January 6, 2014  9:25pm

I want to think this is a step in the right direction, but Instead of pushing the national/global corporate chains that make up “The Shops at Yale” and other spots downtown, it would be nice to see the city put together an incentives card for independent, locally-owned businesses (the kind that Yale Properties systematically runs out of the city).

Perhaps the “Supportland” card could be a model for New Haven:

posted by: Yair on January 7, 2014  12:38am

Really? How are these cards better than cash? They cost money, don’t give you a discount, and are reasonably likely to be lost or forgotten along with their balance.

Parcxmart was a failure because not enough merchants supported it and it wasn’t really good for anything but parking. Parkmobile seems like a very good solution for parking. So I just don’t see the point of this card.

(I hate to be negative—I think a lot of what Jim Travers has done was great. But I just don’t get this one)

posted by: outspoken on January 7, 2014  8:41am

We are going to miss you Jim.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on January 7, 2014  9:57am

Yeah I’m not sure I understand what incentive people have to use the card. Without some sort of discount or at least rewards system in place, this seems like more of a gimmick than a useful product.

posted by: Captain Harlock on January 7, 2014  10:58am

Didn’t they try this once before, and called it “vouchers”? Didn’t go over well from what I remember.

As for the national chains, that’s what Yale wants. Big corporate chains that Yalies recognize from their home town, so they don’t have to get used to something different. “Oh look! They have an Urban Outfitters, Buffalo Wild Wings, an Apple store, and not one but TWO Starbucks!!”. Don’t get me started about that Lewis Black bit about a Starbucks across from another Starbucks. The city had the chance to create a unique area in the 9th Square like Minneapolis has in Uptown, and like Austin has on 6th Street, that would have been full of unique shops that would actually attract people, but they were afraid the punk rockers with black hair and leather jackets that would run these businesses like book shops, guitar and record stores, and coffee houses, would scare the suburbanites with Visa Gold cards. So they tried all “high end” shops, which nobody patronized. It’s not high end Apple stores that revitalize a city, it’s the stuff you use every day.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 7, 2014  11:05am

On a more substantial note, what is happening with the proposed street conversions from one-way to two-way traffic?

Obviously we are waiting for Travers’ replacement, but has Mayor Harp come around to see the merits of the changes?

Finally can someone tell me how I go about getting a refund of the $16 I still have left on my Parxmart card?

posted by: Downtown Linda on January 7, 2014  3:12pm

I’m missing something.  As far as I’m concerned, the city owes me about $30 from my Parxsmart (sp?) that they closed down suddenly.  How is this better than my credit card that I already use and pay for a month later?  No discount, no incentive, no thanks!

posted by: TheMadcap on January 7, 2014  4:20pm

It’s definitely a novel idea, of course it’s questionable though how many people would purchase these over regular gift cards from discover, mastercard, ect that can be used anywhere in the US including the internet.

posted by: darnell on January 7, 2014  6:56pm

LOL, so you bought the “dream” and got yourself a Parxmart card…lol…watch out for that same guy on the street with the trench coat, as he slowly unbuttons and opens one side he whispers, “come on, you know you want it, buy this new mini-me credit card and you get the opportunity to purchase exclusively in New Haven. What? No you can’t use it anywhere else. What? No, you don’t get any discounts.”

If these guys would just stick to there jobs and provide basic services to the taxpayers of New Haven we would all be better off, and you would still have your Parxmart card money in your pocket.

posted by: darnell on January 7, 2014  7:03pm

“We’re really, really, really super excited about this program…They cost $3.95, plus however much money you want to put on the card.” Travers said….lol….what a joke, they’ll be lucky if they sell 10 of those cards.

“By the spring, they’ll be available online and will have a couple of new features, including the ability to add more money to your card. Travers said the Shop•Dine•Park will eventually merge with the city’s municipal ID cards.”....Does anyone still have any of those cards?

“Travers announced the card on his very last day as transportation chief. It was his “last hurrah,” he said.”

Thank God, the last thing we need is more fake credit cards and an overpriced bike corrals.

posted by: Walt on January 7, 2014  7:59pm

Launching a brand new program on the day its   creator leaves for good does not make sense.

The new parking boss has no incentive to make this program successful

By this date in 2015,  no one will remember it except Travers., I would expect.

posted by: smackfu on January 8, 2014  4:03pm

I guess it’s good for people who don’t have credit cards who want to use the meters without having change on them all the time.  But $4 is a pretty steep convenience fee.

And I guess it’s good if you want to give someone a really generic gift that toes the line between cash and a store gift card.  Like a Yale colleague, I’m picturing. Introducing it right after Christmas seems to have missed the boat on that one.