Published at 17:24 on Sunday 24th February 2019
Tags: Contactless, Technology, Oyster, Heathrow Express, National Rail, Consultation

While contactless travel is still to be rolled out across the wider National Rail network, Heathrow Express has just begun to accept contactless Oyster travel on its Paddington to Heathrow service. HEx

A public consultation is currently underway, seeking views from rail passengers and stakeholders, on the potential to make contactless travel more widely accepted.

Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, stated that the views of the travelling public will be at the heart of the renewed drive to make ‘smart ticketing’ or ‘Pay as you go’ (PAYG) on the rail network the norm rather than the exception. With smart cards and barcodes already providing an alternative to existing paper tickets across almost all the UK rail network, the ambition is to drive this even further forward by seeking the public’s views on how to roll out PAYG to more stations.

Feedback from the consultation of passengers in the south east will not only inform any roll-out of the technology in the region, but will also be used when considering how to implement PAYG more widely across other urban or commuter areas in the future.

Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, said: “We want to make rail journeys simpler and easier for passengers. Smart ticketing is the modern answer - offering simpler fares, fairer deals and less confusion for passengers. This consultation is about finding out what works for people, and we want to know how pay-as-you-go could make life easier for passengers who make hundreds of millions of journeys each year.”

Dependent on the outcome of the consultation, by 2020, the Government’s ambition is to see PAYG rolled out across more regional and urban commuter areas, delivering the kind of system that already exists in London. As part of this, the Department for Transport (DfT) is requiring new rail franchisees to introduce PAYG in commuter areas and is already supporting Transport for the North’s ambitious plans to roll it out across public transport in the north.

However, this latest move shows that both the Government and Industry have missed the previous deadline. The Strategic Vision for Rail, released in late 2017 set out an aim that both smartcard and barcode tickets would be accepted for travel on almost all of the network by the end of 2018. While all TOCs now offer one if not both of these options, the systems do not necessarily work across TOCs. Most smartcard systems only work with their own networks, while barcodes are generally accepted across the rail industry, it is purely a different form of ticket, still requiring the use of an online or 'app' purchase. Smart-ticketing has always been intended as an intelligent way of working, such as Oyster in London. Barcode systems simply bring the normal paper ticket into a digital environment.

The question being raised is when does smart become confusing? When asked why different areas have different systems, the DfT responded: "Mobile barcode tickets are ideal for long-distance journeys and support reservations, whereas smartcards are the best option for season tickets." So with the number of ticket types, from Open Return, Advance, Super Advance, Off-Peak, the industry has now gained paper tickets (at least three different types), barcodes (either printed or displayed on mobile 'apps'), smartcards (operator specific) and the potential for contactless. All this apparently is a way of working towards an easier, less confusing ticketing system for passengers.

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