Green digest // Paperless mail

Minneapolis tries paperless mail

The city of Minneapolis aims to cut down on paper waste by switching to a new, paperless mail service known as Zumbox.

Wait: Paperless mail? Isn’t that email?

Not exactly.

Zumbox delivers electronic messages based on a computer user’s street address. That’s convenient for a municipal government, which might need to send out certain messages to a specific street, neighborhood or ZIP code — like a notice about upcoming street cleaning, for example, or changes to the trash and recycling pick-up in a neighborhood.

Zumbox reports on its website that the service has digitized every street address in the U.S., creating over 150 million virtual mailboxes.

Steer your web browser to zumbox.com to register for free. New users are asked to enter their names and street addresses to begin the service.

Minneapolis residents who joined the service in November found a few notes from the city waiting in their new online mailboxes. They included a notice about an upcoming hearing on the city budget and this year’s snow emergency brochure, which is downloadable as a PDF file (although printing it out to post on the refrigerator would seem to go against the spirit of the whole paperless mail thing).

There was also a welcome letter signed by Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barb Johnson. They write that Zumbox should allow the city to “scale back on printed material sent via regular mail,” eventually saving taxpayer dollars and reducing paper waste.

Not surprisingly, your mailbox is likely to contain some paperless junk mail, as well. One new Zumbox account was stuffed with coupons for $2 off a whole Butterball turkey or $5 off a bag of Science Diet dog food.

Paperless letters labeled “confidential” can’t be opened until a Zumbox security code shows up via conventional mail — proving snail mail is still good for something.

Zumbox users also may use the service to send mail, of course. Zumbox suggests creating a message as a Word or PDF file, then uploading it to the site. The service can handle video and audio messages, as well.

The Zumbox website has a FAQ file with more information on security, sending time-sensitive messages and paying bills online.

Other cities involved in the November nationwide roll-out of Zumbox included New York City, Newark, N.J. and San Francisco, the city reported. The cities get access to Zumbox free of charge.

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Metro Transit to offer new rewards program

Bus and light rail users will have a new opportunity to earn rewards for riding in 2010.

Metro Transit plans to launch a revamped Ride to Rewards program for Go-To cardholders. Frequent transit users will earn points that can be redeemed at local businesses or be used to recharge their Go-To cards (also known as a Metropass, U-Pass or Go-To College Pass, depending on the issuer).

“What we’re trying to do here is reward, as the name implies, our existing customers for their loyalty,” said Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metro Transit. “This has the potential of inspiring them to ride more often, which is good for us.”

It also is, arguably, good for the environment, assuming it encourages more transit use and fewer single-passenger car trips.

Metro Transit already collects data every time a Go-To cardholder swipes their card to pay a fare. Beginning with a small pilot program in January, users will earn points based on when, where and how frequently they ride.

Metro Transit partnered with Transit Treasures, a Florida-based startup company with plans to offer a similar service to other transit systems in the U.S. and Canada. The Twin Cities transit system, though, is Transit Treasures’ first customer, said founder and CEO Dan Miller.

Miller said the rewards system is very similar to an airline’s frequent flyer program. He’s in talks with transit systems in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Montreal and several other cities where he hopes to offer the service.

Miller’s Minneapolis team began in November to recruit local businesses into the rewards program. They planned to recruit 200–250 local merchants by the time the program launches in mid-January, and are targeting “mom and pop shops,” not big box retailers, he said.

Miller said Ride to Rewards participants would have the option to sign up for email notices with information on how to earn bonus rewards points, specials at participating retailers and the like. Points also may be used to purchase items from an online catalog.

Gibbons said the new Ride to Rewards program would replace an existing program by the same name. That program operated more like a “membership club,” with regular drawings for prizes like gift certificates or airline tickets, he said.

“We’ll be communicating with the existing Ride to Rewards customers and inviting them to transition to the new program,” he said.

The new Ride to Rewards will be offered to about 100 Metro Transit customers in January for a test run.