Smart ticketing will be a must for railway bidders
‘SMART ticketing’ will be introduced at Spelthorne stations under the new rail franchise, spurring on campaigners who want to see Zone 6 extended into the borough.
The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that introducing the electronic tickets would be a ‘minimum improvement’ for bidders interested in running the South Western railway, with the winning bid due to be announced in February.
The Spelthorne in the Zone movement wants to see Staines, Ashford, Sunbury and Shepperton, included in Zone 6 so that Oyster cards can be used, and the group say they are ‘ pleased’ smart ticketing will be included in the bidding process.
The campaign group held its inaugural public meeting earlier this month, with a panel of councillors, Spelthorne Business Forum leaders and MP Kwasi Kwarteng discussing the economic impacts if stations were included in Transport for London’s Zone 6.
Questions from residents were put to the panel, ranging from whether there are any technical and political barriers preventing the change, whether the borough would have to become a London borough, and about the use of Freedom Passes and Young Person’s Railcards should the Oyster Card be brought in.
A petition has attracted more than 5,000 signatures, with the campaign backed by big businesses based in the borough including Thorpe Park, Pinewood Studios and Heathrow Airport.
The movement started two years ago when Olivia Rybinski, now a Spelthorne councillor, and retired Patti Taylor joined forces.
“I truly believe that having Zone 6, having contactless payment, Oyster cards, would really benefit all of us,” said Cllr Rybinski, who moved to Ashford three years ago from Zone 3.
Cllr Rybinski and Cllr Sabine Capes said the benefits would include cheaper and easier travel for Spelthorne residents and visitors, reduced congestion on the roads, increased off-peak journeys and Staines town centre becoming ‘real competition’ for the likes of Richmond and Kingston.
Michael Craig, Kwasi Kwarteng’s senior executive officer, talked through his dealings with the DfT and Transport for London (TfL), the main players in the decision. He said the DfT had confirmed smart ticketing will be a requirement for the new franchise holder, when the bid outcome is decided in 2017.
“Oyster is the natural choice for that service,” he said, adding that they made it clear that any changes need to be approved by TfL.
In an open letter TfL’s Geoff Hobbs said he supported a ‘more convenient ticketing system and therefore supports an extension of the area in which contactless ticketing is valid’. However, he noted, there are ‘technical limits to the number of zones possible in the Oyster system’.
Cllr Nick Gething, Spelthorne cabinet member for planning and economic development, told the meeting there were ‘ huge’ financial opportunities for the borough, increasing footfall and reducing traffic. ”It would be easier and cheaper for people to travel into London and around the borough,” he said. “It makes life easier for those coming to Surrey and residents commuting to London.”
Spelthorne Business Forum has also given its backing, with chairman Michael Ramlakhan adding: “There’s a lot of thriving businesses in Spelthorne. We want it to work as it would just increase our business presence in the country.”
Closing the meeting, Mr Kwarteng said it was positive to see ‘this kind of enthusiasm’.
“There’s lots of technical details with regard to franchising, and of various studies and looking at the economic impact of pricing and all the rest of it. It really takes a long time to get your head round these issues,” he said.
A motion is due to go before a full council meeting tomorrow (Thursday), asking for full support in the campaign.