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Smart rail ticketing technology to be tested by end of 2017

Transport secretary Chris Grayling sets out plans for trials of smart ticketing technology

Technology that allows rail passengers to use a smart card or smartphone-based season ticket will be tested in the UK before the end of 2017, the government has said.

In a speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Our railways haven’t made nearly enough progress in using new technology for rail tickets.

“Last year, I said we needed to get rid of the paper ticket on our trains. So today I am setting out details of our £80m programme to bring smart ticketing, using mobile phones, barcodes and smartcards across almost all of the rail network by the end of next year.” 

According to a briefing note, Grayling wants to challenge the industry to “accelerate proposals” for interoperable, pay-as-you-go tickets on commuter routes, and the government plans to speed up progress on this front on a number of commuter routes held by operators C2C, Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink.

The £80m funding pot for smart ticketing was first announced in the Autumn Statement 2016, and this new detail builds on a speech made by Grayling in December 2016, in which the transport secretary said he wanted to make rapid progress on smart ticketing systems.

“I think everyone commuting into our major towns and cities should be able to use mobile phones, contactless cards or smart cards for their ticket,” he said. “I want to see more pay-as-you-go options for rail travel, as passengers are able to do with Oyster cards in London, meaning no need to purchase a ticket ahead of travel.”

Grayling has already established a special transport project team within the Department for Tranposrt to explore the future of smart ticketing, and has chaired a number of meetings with industry and sub-national transport bodies to try to drive progress forward.

A number of rail operators are already either using, or testing smart ticketing technology. Earlier in 2017, Great Western Railway (GWR) launched a pilot scheme on the Severn Beach Line in Bristol using smartcards to hold weekly, monthly and annual season tickets.

It is hoped that this scheme, which is being run in partnership with Bristol City Council, will eventually be extended into an integrated scheme covering public transport – including buses – in the wider Bristol area.

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“Technology has fundamentally changed the way that we travel. Our pilot smartcard scheme for the Severn Beach Line will make buying a ticket and travelling with us much easier and more convenient,” said GWR head of retail Lee Edworthy.

“Initially starting with rail season tickets, it is the first step towards wider integration of ticketing for bus and rail across the Bristol area.”

Some kind of national smart ticketing scheme for the UK’s railways has been an objective for a long time – the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation (ITSO), a non-profit collaboration between industry and the government was set up in 2002, with the objective of developing and maintaining a specification for transport smartcards across the UK network.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government tried to revitalise plans for a national ITSO-based scheme under the leadership of previous transport secretary Justine Greening.

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