National ticketing project could use NFC and contactless to save £2bn a year, says UK’s Dept for Transport

A consultation paper published by the UK’s Department for Transport sets out plans for a national, integrated ticketing system that could save £2bn a year.

FEEDBACK: Responses to the DfT's smart ticketing consultation must be in by October 28
FEEDBACK: Responses to the DfT's smart ticketing consultation must be in by October 28

“I believe that the time is right for the Department to have a dedicated strategy for Smart and Integrated Ticketing, which we intend to publish around the end of the year,” says Sadiq Khan, the UK’s minister of state for transport, in the foreword to his department’s new consultation paper, ‘Developing a strategy for smart and integrated ticketing’.

“The technology is already out there and I want to see it used to not only help passengers but also reduce congestion, pollution, improve the local environment, and help local authorities plan more effective local transport systems,” he continues. “This consultation paper will inform a strategy that embraces new technology, innovation and puts the passenger first.”

The 130-page consultation paper sets out in detail the Department for Transport‘s vision for a national integrated ticketing infrastructure for England and calls on all interested parties to respond to the consultation paper by 28 October, ahead of the publication of a full integrated ticketing strategy due to be completed before the end of 2009.

The consultation paper paints a bold vision for the future of ticketing in England:

  • Smart ticketing is the future of transport ticketing. Our vision for England is of universal coverage of smart ticketing infrastructure on all public transport. ITSO will remain the standard for interoperable smart ticketing but will develop to accommodate new technology.
  • Local authorities will group together, possibly on a regional or city-region basis, to implement a shared back office architecture. Operators will develop their own parallel architecture and there is potential for synergy for operators running both rail and bus operations. Small transport operators will be able to purchase a ‘managed service’ at a reasonable price to deal with their back office and other smart ticketing requirements.
  • There will increasingly be city-wide (possibly regional), integrated, multimodal smart ticketing schemes that are interoperable with each other and able to incorporate parking, taxis or other initiatives such as bicycle hire as well as public transport. The benefits of smart ticketing will be most quickly realised in urban areas but schemes that start in towns and cities will evolve to encompass the rest of the country and cover wider local and national networks over time.
  • NFC mobile phones could in time replace smartcards as the dominant media for carrying ticket products. EMV contactless payments could become common for low value transactions. The Government welcomes any such innovations that can make public transport more attractive and looks forward to their increasing uptake across the transport sector.
  • Suppliers will develop cheaper and more robust standard equipment and software for smart schemes. Smartcard readers will be able to read NFC phones, EMV cards and ITSO products as standard. Cheaper and more flexible handheld smartcard readers for fraud prevention will become common.
  • Over time operators and authorities will look to link smart tickets and new technology to the provision of transport related information, e.g. through tailored itineraries and real time travel updates.
  • There will remain a need for more “traditional” pay-in-advance ticketing products, particularly for high value transactions such as rail season tickets, which fit well with traditional smartcards.
  • Local authorities (and particularly PTEs) will work with transport providers across modes to develop integrated (multi-modal or multi-operator) tickets, particularly in urban areas. Increased smart ticketing infrastructure will encourage innovative products including travelcards, e-money, carnets and pay-as-you-go with ‘capping’ and ‘shoulder pricing’ to manage demand. Pay-as-you-go should become the dominant ticket type in most cities.
  • Transport providers will increasingly be able to tailor products to the needs of the individual and will be able to implement loyalty schemes to reward those using their services. Local authorities will increasingly use smart ticketing to assist in non-transport policies such as social and leisure services. The provision of joined-up citizens cards tailored at different elements of the local population will increase.
  • Competitively priced single operator ticketing will remain an important part of the public transport offer (though increasingly offered via smart media). There will also be an ongoing need to cater for the ‘unbanked’, for cash transactions, and legacy paper ticketing systems, in the medium term at least.
  • With standardised smart-ticketing infrastructure in place across public transport in England there will be a rapid expansion in innovation around ticketing on all modes. This will happen alongside the introduction of innovative links between ticketing and other transport areas such as tolls, parking, lift-sharing, car hire and even fuel purchasing. Policy makers will be able to explore new ways of offering benefits (perhaps replacing blunt standard concessions with targeted pre-pay credit). Smart ticketing infrastructure will allow those working in the transport sphere to think radically about how they work and what they offer.

The £2billion annual potential saving identified by the department is expected to come from a combination of “improved journey times and faster, more convenient and reliable purchasing and use of tickets, with benefits for local government and operators too.”

Funding to make the scheme a reality is, however, not included in the plans. “Since many of the benefits of smart ticketing will be realised by operators and local authorities, we do not believe it is a reasonable expectation that the Department will wholly and directly fund all smart ticketing infrastructure and this will not be part of the final strategy,” says the consultation paper.

“Experience has shown that smart ticketing can be a key part of offering a 21st century public transport system,” says the minister. “And of course the easier it is to use public transport, the more people will do so, which is why I want to see a universal coverage of smart ticketing on all modes of public transport in England as quickly as possible.”

“We know that passengers want quicker journeys and better reliability, and smart ticketing will help us do that,” Khan continued. “We could see the end to waiting in line at ticket machines, while buses could spend half the amount of time sitting at the bus stop waiting for people to board and looking for the right change. In some cases, direct payments may even do away with the need for a ticket at all.”

Readers can download the full consultation paper and the consultation response form from the Department for Transport’s website.

• The DfT is currently recruiting a chief executive for ITSO Ltd, the organisation charged with managing and developing the specification for smart ticketing in the UK. The job is based in Birmingham, pays £120,000 a year and applications close on September 17.

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