New blow for ‘contactless’ travel scheme
Fixed-price, cross-Northern card plan will be rail only after bus firms’ snub
TRANSPORT BOSSES have been forced to ditch a major element of their troubled scheme to offer contactless ‘pay-as-you-go’ travel across the North, after the region’s big bus companies refused to support it.
Transport for the North (TfN)’s Integrated and Smart Travel Programme was originally meant to allow passengers to use contactless bank cards to travel on buses, trams, trains and ferries on the same journey across the North with a fixed maximum price.
But The Yorkshire Post revealed last year that the future of the £150m scheme was in jeopardy after bus firms such as Arriva, First Go-Ahead and Stagecoach refused to co-operate as they already have their own contactless schemes.
Political leaders have now agreed a way forward – at a private meeting in Leeds, TfN’s board, including metro mayors Andy Burnham and Dan Jarvis, changed tack and focussed its contactless pay-as-you-go travel plans on rail operators, with the aim of bringing bus firms on board in the future.
According to a confidential report, seen by The Yorkshire Post, this means the transport body will be forced to cancel the setting up of the office processing system, known as ABBOT, which would have worked out the cost of journeys on different modes of transport.
Officials are also working with combined authority bosses on delivering smart ticketing schemes around the region, using money saved from dropping part of the original plan.
But they admit scaling back on the scheme means that, at least in the short term, customers will not get the ‘fair price promise’ set out as part of TfN’s original vision
to encourage people to travel across the North for work.
Bus companies are reluctant to sign up to the TfN scheme because their have already spent money on their own contactless technology and pay-as-you-go plans and believe they can respond more quickly to changes in the industry with control of their own systems. Contactless ticketing is now available on more than 90 per cent of buses nationwide and ticketing with a maximum ‘capped’ daily or weekly charge in areas.
Big bus firms have committed to delivering price-capped daily and weekly tickets that can be used across different operators in major urban areas by 2022.
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus industry, said: “Bus operators and Transport for the North have a shared objective and commitment to make public transport ticketing simpler and more accessible for customers.
“Following TfN’s decision to focus on the rail sector in the near term, we will continue to improve our customer offer by working together to deliver simpler ticketing across a range of platforms around the country. This includes introducing the first multi-operator capped ticketing scheme by autumn 2020.”
A TfN spokeswoman said officials “have been consulting with our partners and public transport operators to consider the evolving smart ticketing landscape.” She said: “Other aspects of the programme – including roll-out of smart cards across the North’s rail network – continue at pace.”
Mark Parry, of the Campaign for Better Transport, West & North Yorkshire Branch, described the development as a “major disappointment”. He said: “The equivalent Oyster card scheme in London has been especially successful in making travel easy across all modes of public transport. Whatever the underlying reason behind this, it is important that passengers have access to an easy to understand range of tickets from which to choose one that suits them.”
WHEN TRANSPORT bosses first set out ambitious plans to offer contactless smart travel across the North, the vision was of a streamlined ticketing system allowing passengers to use buses, trams and trains on the same journey without having to make separate payments and with a capped maximum price. Yet that will not be the reality for many long-suffering public transport users – at least in the short term, after big bus companies, which already have their own contactless schemes, refused to support the £150m plan.
Transport for the North is instead changing tack, focusing its pay-as-you-go travel on rail operators, with hopes of bringing buses on board at some stage in the future.
But without a central ticketing system, passengers who rely on multiple modes of transport will be left without a simpler way to pay – and customers will miss out on the ‘fair price promise’ set out as part of TfN’s original vision to encourage people to travel across the North for work.
Such a fractured system is yet another example of how far the North still has to go in order for transport to be able to compete with the likes of London, where commuters have long taken a comprehensive smart travel programme, and the convenience it offers, for granted. And it is also further argument for the Government to adequately support the North’s transport system by awarding greater powers to TfN, which, with no ability to compel operators to sign up to a smart travel scheme, is at a disadvantage compared to Transport for London.
The body has claimed it now plans to develop more localised smart ticketing schemes, including integration with buses, to help deliver on its original plan. But it has not yet set out how these would work. What is key is ensuring that any such systems would fit together in a way that best supports the health of the Northern economy.