Thanks to improvements in technology, the days of buying paper tickets for use on public transport are coming to an end. Today, smart cards, contactless payments and even payment by mobile phone are taking over as smart travel becomes the norm.
The origin of this change was Transport for London’s Oyster Card, which was first introduced way back in 2003. It has been so successful that over 80% of all journeys on London public transport are now paid for using it. The Oyster Card has made life simpler for both commuters and transport companies and has helped to speed up journeys.
It was the success of the Oyster Card that led transport secretary, Chris Grayling, to announce plans, in 2016, for all rail commuters to be able to use a pay-as-you-go smart card to take them anywhere in the UK. His aim was that all train operators would have Oyster-style cards available by the end of 2018. In an article in The Daily Telegraph, he said, “We need smart ticketing, and particularly pay as you go smart cards on commuter routes all around the country.”
In order to promote its uptake, Grayling launched an £80m programme to develop smart ticketing across the country. The target is to give everyone the ability to travel without a paper ticket by the end of 2018, using smart cards and mobile phones. As part of this, mobile barcode ticketing will be rolled out to every rail company in the country.
The transport secretary added, “Passengers across the country want smart ticketing. This significant investment will ensure that passengers across the network can use mobile phones, bar codes and smart cards across almost all of the network by the end of next year.”
In collaboration with the Rail Delivery Group, the Department for Transport is now planning a new generation of ticketing systems that will give travellers more flexibility in how they pay for travel and enabling them to save money at the same time. As a result, three train companies are already preparing for the implementation of mobile phone and smart card payments and details are being ironed out with other operators too.
In addition, Key-Go, a contactless pay-as-you-go travel card, is being introduced throughout the rail network. Currently, this card enables travellers to simply tap in and out across most of the Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern networks and it is likely to be adopted nationally by the end of the year. What’s also great from a passenger’s point of view, is that Key-Go charges the most appropriate fare for their journey, helping customers to save whilst they travel.
It’s not just on rail, however, where smart ticketing is having an impact. Contactless cards, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards, are now being used in many other areas. In Manchester, for example, smart cards enable passengers to seamlessly travel on the city’s buses and trams, regardless of who the operator is. This is similar to South Yorkshire’s personalised TravelMaster card, Network Midlands Swift card and Stagecoach’s ‘Stagecoach Smart’ card.
Contactless debit card payments, which are already in use by Transport for London, are also set to roll out to other areas of the country during 2018. Simply tapping a debit card or mobile phone on a payment terminal makes paying for journeys much more convenient for travellers whilst reducing queues for buses and trams. Speeding things up also enables operators to improve journey times and offer better prices.
In Manchester, contactless payment will be initially rolled out on Metrolink before being extended to other services, including rail. Their system will also introduce ‘smart cap’ pricing, that ensures the customer gets the best price for their journeys. A similar system has been put in place in Cambridge by Stagecoach East. Here customers can now pay for journeys with debit cards and phones (using Apple Pay or Android Pay, etc.).
In an interview with Cambridge News, Andrew Campbell, MD of Stagecoach East, said, “Keeping up with the latest technology is key to enhancing customer experience. Not only does contactless make buying a ticket quicker and easier for our passengers, but it also allows us to increase the quality of our service by cutting queues and speeding up journey times.”
In addition to its contactless and smart card payment systems, Stagecoach East has also introduced a new smartphone app which enables customers to track where their bus is. While this won’t make the bus turn up any quicker, it is likely to reduce incidents of ‘commuter rage’ which can sometimes lead to the abuse of drivers.
It looks like smart travel will be the norm on UK public transport by the end of 2018. Whether we use smart cards, contactless debit cards or mobile phones, paying for our journeys will be quicker and easier than ever before and hopefully, the prices will be fairer too. And if transport companies save money by shortening queues and speeding up journeys, hopefully, that money can be invested to make public transport even better, or cheaper, or both.