'Smart card' will pay for trains, trams and buses

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A "smart card" to pay for trains, buses and trams all over Britain has been given the go ahead by the new Transport Secretary.

Douglas Alexander announced that the "Oyster" ticketing system, which covers public transport in London but does not apply to most journeys on the main rail network, would be extended to trains in the capital and would lay the foundation for a system to cover all public transport.

Passengers simply "swipe" the card over electronic equipment at the start of their journey and swipe it again when they reach their destination. The relevant amounts of money are taken out of pre-paid credits on the card.

Transport for London has paid for Oyster card-reading equipment to be installed in all 300 railway stations in travel zones 1 to 6. At the moment only 60 stations are covered. Ministers have also required bidders for the new South Western rail franchise - Britain's busiest commuter network - to set out how such an automatic payment system might work throughout the region.

Passenger Focus, the rail passengers' watchdog, welcomed the initiative and urged the Government to extend the arrangement nationally as soon as possible. But the RMT rail union, aware of the potential impact on staffing, warned that it would resist any redundancies.

Mr Alexander said: "This is a major step forward in ensuring that all passengers can benefit from the improvements new technology can bring. It lays the foundation for a national integrated ticketing scheme that will mean more flexible, quicker and simpler tickets for all passengers."

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who jointly launched the initiative, said the extension of Oyster marked a "massive" step towards a fully integrated ticketing system in London. It would enable passengers to move easily between rail, Tube, Docklands Light Railway, tram and bus using the Oyster card without having to buy separate tickets. He said the pay-as-you-go system could be available at mainline rail stations in London during 2008.

Mr Alexander also gave his backing to speed cameras and road pricing. He said speed cameras had "a role to play" and road pricing was one of a series of measures that had to be considered to ease congestion.

But he warned that there were still "very big issues to be resolved" with road pricing and said he would make £10m available to the private sector to work on the technology needed to bring in a system of pay-as-you-go road tolls.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the new minister who, took over the transport brief from Alistair Darling in last week's reshuffle, said: "We have to face certain basic facts. As we become better off as a country, we will want to travel more and we will want to travel further. And as we travel more, because we live on a crowded island, congestion is set to grow, so if we do nothing we simply face eternal gridlock."

The Shadow Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "Yet again we have a secretary of state whose only solution to our transport problems seems to be a road-pricing system which couldn't be introduced for a decade.It's time ministers realised that we need action now to improve transport and not vague ideas for the distant future.

"They could start by keeping some of the transport promises they've made in the last few years and then quietly dropped."

The original: London's Oyster

* The card was introduced in summer 2003.

* It can be used on the Underground, the Docklands Light Railway, buses, trams and some central London rail services.

* The Government plans to extend its use from 60 rail stations in London to all 300 on the capital's network.

* Users "swipe" the card over electronic equipment when they start a journey and do the same when they reach their destination.

* Passengers choose how much credit they want on the card before they use it.

* More than 6 million Oyster cards are now in use.

* The card offers cheaper fares: Passengers pay 80p for a single bus journey rather than £1.50 if cash is used.

* The card can be topped up at ticket machines, online, by phone, at travel information centres and at 2,200 "Oyster-enabled" agents.