By Phil Marsh

Scotland goes smart – England to follow?

Published: 10th March 2016

Department for Transport announces end of orange rail tickets

ScotRail has announced that it is to work with other transport operators to provide seamless “smart” travel in Scotland.

Derek Mackay MSP, Scotland’s Minister of Transport and Islands, joined ScotRail Alliance commercial director Cathy Craig at Glasgow Central station to launch the ‘Summer of Smart’ campaign on 1 March.

“Smartcard” technology is being rolled out on more routes this year with a target of 60 per cent of journeys by ScotRail using such cards by 2019. Annual, monthly and weekly season ticket holders can currently use “Smartcards” on four routes in the Central Belt. This is being rolled out across other routes this summer.

By the end of the summer, “Smart” season tickets will be available on the remaining 24 lines, ranging from Stranraer to Wick.

They said:

Cathy Craig said: “By the end of the summer, season ticket holders the length and breadth of Scotland will be able to buy their season tickets at home or at one of our at-station ticket machines, load them up onto their ‘Smartcard’ and then just tap and go.”

She added: “The technology that sits behind our ‘Smartcards’ is the same as that being used by many other transport operators. We are absolutely committed to working with these other operators to find a way to make sure that ‘Smartcards’ work right across Scotland’s transport network, making travelling in Scotland a seamless, hassle-free experience.”

Mr Mackay described the announcement as “good news for rail passengers in Scotland”.

He added: “As part of last year’s ScotRail franchise contract award, Ministers emphasised the need for an innovative approach to ‘Smart’ ticketing within rail, which included an ambitious target to deliver an overall figure of 60 per cent of journeys by ‘Smart’ by 2019. The Scottish Government’s long-terms vision for ‘Smart’ travel is that passengers on all forms of public transport will be able to pay for their journeys using some form of ‘Smart’ ticketing.”

‘Smart’ ticketing is to be extended beyond season tickets to the majority of ticket types by 2017 and all ticket types by 2019, including some multi-modal tickets.

ScotRail concluded: “This will mean that passengers can hold tickets for rail travel, which will also be compatible with buses, ferries and the Glasgow subway on one card, whilst also allowing for integration with cycle hire and car parking as these become ‘Smart’-enabled.”

England to follow?

The Department for Transport has been trying to introduce ‘smart’ ticketing for several years but the project has been falling behind schedule and has gone over budget.

London’s travelling public have had the benefit of Oyster Cards for well over a decade which allows passengers to travel on trains, trams, buses and river boats. The Oyster card is a prepaid travel card which is pressed against terminals on automatic ticket gates, on buses and various entry points to open stations (those without automatic ticket gates). They can be used by passengers who travel irregularly or can be used as an annual ticket across all travel zones.

They are a huge success and the millions of users will be bemused as to why the DfT cannot just introduce tried and tested technology away from London. But of course, use of contactless payment cards are now rapidly increasing for travel so even perhaps the Oyster card is about to be superceded.

But Rail Minister Claire Perry has said that since 2011, we have made good progress on smart ticketing in the south east of the country through the South East Flexible Ticketing programme, known as SEFT.

This is a government-backed programme under which train companies can collaborate to offer smart ITSO-based tickets that work seamlessly across the south-east. The programme has grown to include 5 train companies covering over 70% of the south-east’s annual season ticket commuter market.

But SEFT is doing more than extend smart ticketing coverage. SEFT is showing that different operators can come together. They can get their back-office IT systems to talk to one another. And they can provide a seamless customer experience across different operators and different transport modes.

So SEFT has helped smart ticketing technology to mature and industry expertise to grow.

Government giving up?

So as the SEFT appears to be maturing, why is the DfT handing things over to the private sector? The rail minister says that SEFT has helped us reach the point at which future innovation can be led by the private sector. By companies who know their customers’ needs and have the ambition to meet those needs, and an ambition to run their businesses with more innovation and efficiency.

This ambition is included in the two forthcoming franchise competitions, the Southwestern and West Midlands franchises when the specification said that bidders had to make a significant increase in the use of smart ticketing.

The future — moving on from magstripe

Ms Perry says that if smart ticketing becomes established on our railways, it will mean the death of the tangerine ticket; the familiar orange magstripe paper ticket that has served Britain’s rail customers for thirty years.

Many rail staff and passengers will be sceptical about this because technology does not work reliably enough yet to provide a 100% reliable mobile ticketing system.

A major concern is that the many occasional rail users and millions of tourists will not be able to cope without a ‘real ticket’. And will there still be a need for the ticket gates at stations?

Time will tell!

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