Ticket to Ride, smartcard style

Stuffed walrusOver in neighbouring Merseyside, they’ve revealed the name of the new Merseytravel smartcard. Not only does it follow the pattern of being named after marine life (Oyster, Octopus, Orca etc) it also has a decided nod-of-the-head towards that famous Liverpudlian export, The Beatles – unveiling the new Walrus card (coo coo ca choo). Meanwhile, it’s as good a time as any to see where TfGM and local transport operators are at with their own plans.

Looking at the Walrus’ implementation timeline is instructive with regards to how a smartcard may be launched in Manchester: start with the annual season tickets (from Autumn 2011) as there’ll be a limited number in circulation which can act as a testbed, expand the range over the following years as well as adding other modes of transport, and then finally introduce full “pay-as-you-go” (by Summer 2013). TfGM have slightly different ideas – in their recent hearing with the Competition Commission about the inquiry into local bus services, TfGM reiterate that their priority for smartcards is for Metrolink first, followed by bus, then finally including rail as that will require discussions with the Department for Transport.

One interesting snippet from this hearing is that TfGM believes it should have not only the power to set a cap on the price of multi-operator tickets, but also to ban single-operator specific tickets. Such a function would definitely simplify the ticketing range in Greater Manchester, but we can’t see bus operators being too pleased at the prospect of less revenue. Despite this, TfGM is confident that the larger bus operators intend to help smaller bus companies introduce the necessary infrastructure to allow multi-operator smartcards to go ahead. How are the larger bus operators doing at introducing ticket machines that can read smartcards?

As we reported in May, Stagecoach Manchester have already launched their single-operator specific ticket, alongside fellow Wilmslow Road operator Finglands. The cross-boundary operators on the fringe of the county, Transdev and Rossendalebus, have accepted ITSO bus passes for a number of years, recently joined by Network Warrington. Arriva’s Bolton depot is equipped, but routes operated by other depots around Salford, Manchester and Trafford are not yet. That leaves First Manchester…

Earlier this month, FirstGroup announced that they were spending £18 million to equip their 5,000 buses in the UK (outside London) with new ticket machines. Not only does the Almex Optima BL ticket machine accept ITSO smartcards, First has effectively leapfrogged the opposition by offering the concept of payment via contactless credit and debit cards. Fitting out nationally starts in Autumn this year but won’t be completed until 2013 at the earliest. It’s understood to also include “touch-out” readers by the exit doors in order to support the “pay as you go” concept but with graduated fares.

[Image credit: “Walruses” by Tomas on Flickr]

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About James McCollom

Web geek and public transport user
This entry was posted in Buses, Technology, Trains, Trams and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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