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Prioritise smart ticketing, minister tells rail operators


Rail operators should emulate Transport for London in making smart ticketing their default option, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris has said.

In a letter to operators, Heaton-Harris asked them for their plans to sell smart tickets by default by January 2020, as well as what work they have already undertaken to increase take-up.

He said that the Government wants to see a return on the money it has spent on technology infrastructure for accepting smart and printed barcode tickets.

But Heaton-Harris added that the Government does not want operators to stop selling paper tickets, as this would exclude those who do have bank cards or mobile phones.

“By sending this letter I am not asking you to withdraw paper tickets, but I do want to encourage people to use smart tickets, which will naturally lead to fewer paper tickets being sold,” he wrote.

Every rail operator provides smart ticketing options and they can be used on nine in 10 routes nationally, according to the Rail Delivery Group which represents the industry. It said that the number of journeys taken with smart tickets has risen from 37% in 2018 to 50% this year.

London has led the UK on moving to paperless ticketing, introducing the Oyster contactless smartcard in June 2003, which expanded to include all commuter rail services in Greater London by 2010. Other urban transport operators are following suit, with Transport for Greater Manchester introducing contactless payments for Metrolink trams in July, similar work in Liverpool and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority working to develop digital payments in and around Leeds.

While smart ticketing works well in urban areas where fares are standardised and easy to understand, it may prove harder to introduce on longer routes where prices and options vary widely. In February, the Rail Delivery Group proposed reforms that would simplify fares, which among other things would make smart ticketing more attractive.

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