What happens when a large government organization and a funky startup meet? Love at first sight. Thus the relationship between BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and foursquare, as described today at Web 2.0 Expo by Melissa Jorda

n, BART senior marketing director, and Tristan Walker, head of business development at foursquare. The two described how location is changing social media marketing and how brands can use it to improve user experience.

“The story of BART and foursquare could seem like strange bedfellows because we’re government – big government – and they’re so new and cute and young,” Jordan said. “Transit by definition is a location-based service. An app that lets people network on their commutes seemed a natural fit.”

“BART was the first brand to leverage our platform in an interesting way,” Walker said.

Ultimately, however different the two organizations are, they have the same goal: making cities easy to use.

The relationship started not with a cute meet but with a cold call from Jordan to Walker. Big government and a trendy startup partnered to create a showcase for the power of checking in.

“I’m not saying we’re getting people to use public transit, but we are making people more aware of it,” Walker said.

According to an in-house survey, BART’s use of foursquare has been a resounding success. In fact, 14 percent of respondents said they rode BART more often because of check-ins. Thirty-eight percent said that foursquare made riding more BART more fun.

Obviously, this is something that MUNI, San Francisco’s beleaguered light-rail system, should consider.

While BART is more than satisfied with foursquare, the agency thinks there’s much that foursquare can do to improve its service.

“Foursquare needs more functions,” Jordan said. “DMS, aggregate data for vendors, and better real-time info."

Unlike MUNI (not to belabor the point), BART is a forward looking organization, befitting its role as one of the Bay Area’s primary means of transit. It will soon be launching an augmented reality app that will show trains’ arrival time, for example.

“At BART we try to be on the leading edge and get the first movers,” Jordan said.

By Mark Alvarez