London-style smart ticketing to be installed on buses across England

Integrated systems would mean it becomes easier to buy return fares in areas using more than one bus operator

Electronic ticketing systems similar to those used in London are to be installed on buses across England under reforms to be introduced next month. 

The Buses Bill will give local authorities the power to demand that companies bidding for bus franchises implement smart ticketing systems similar to the Oyster cards and contactless bank card payments used in the capital. Councils will also be able to call for franchises to set up smartphone apps so commuters can track the whereabouts of their next bus. 

Integrated smart ticketing systems would mean that it becomes easier to buy return fares in areas using more than one bus operator. At present, passengers usually have to return with the same bus company or pay more for two separate one-way tickets. 

The five biggest bus operators, including Arriva and Go-Ahead, this month pledged to introduce contactless travel on all their buses by 2022, but smaller companies are thought to be resistant. Operators are also keen to retain cash fares because many of their customers do not have bank accounts. 

The Department for Transport held a series of workshops on the Bill last year. A DfT summary concluded: “It was acknowledged during discussions that passenger expectations for more advanced ticketing continue to rise. There is therefore a need to consider how contactless bankcards and other modern forms of ticketing technology can be introduced.” Options included “mandating operator participation” in smart ticketing schemes and “setting standards in order to bring about a step-change in the delivery of ticketing to passengers”. 

A DfT source said: “Some of the bus companies have anxieties about this, but ... we expect companies to look towards using these kinds of technologies.” 

Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We strongly welcome the Bill, which will give communities outside London the opportunity to get some of the advantages that London has had – integrated smart ticketing, simple fares and better planned networks. These, along with better planning and traffic management, can reverse the long-term decline in bus use. 

“But alongside the Bill, there needs to be a new funding settlement for buses, joining up different pots of money and reversing the underfunding of the pensioner bus pass. We are already seeing cuts in bus subsidies planned by many authorities, especially in rural areas, including the PM’s home turf in Oxfordshire, and these will leave many communities isolated. The Bill and wider policy will need to address this issue, too.” 

The transport minister, Andrew Jones, said this month: “The smart ticketing revolution is helping to build a modern, affordable transport network that provides better journeys for everyone. By working together, industry, city regions, and government have been able to ensure more and more people can use smart ticketing to get around. We are determined to continue driving progress so passengers get the quick and simple journeys they want and deserve.”

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