Select Committee on Transport Fifth Report

1  Introduction

1. On 1 April 2008 the English national concessionary travel scheme will be launched, giving free national bus travel to older and disabled people in England. This provides an opportunity for the Government and transport operators to take a major step towards integrated ticketing, with the introduction of smartcard concessionary travel passes throughout England. We have, therefore, inquired into the extent to which integrated ticketing on public transport has been achieved for all users; the issues regarding smartcards; arrangements for revenue protection (stopping fare-evasion) which will be affected by new forms of ticket; and the impact of concessionary travel in England which is costing £1 billion per annum. We have not looked at fare levels as this issue was addressed in our previous report How fair are the fares?[1]

2. The history of public transport conjures up images of machines and infrastructure—Brunel's Great Western Railway with its engines, tunnels and bridges; the London Routemaster bus; the reintroduction of trams in Manchester; and, more recently, St Pancras International Station and High Speed 1. By contrast, the humble ticket rarely gains a mention. Yet ticketing arrangements are just as important as vehicles and infrastructure from the passenger's point of view. How and where tickets are sold, whether different tickets are needed for different stages of a journey and the form that the ticket takes, all have a bearing on individuals' travel choices. The Government recognised this in its 1998 White Paper, A New Deal for Transport - Better for Everyone, which proposed more through-ticketing and easier ticketing arrangements as a central part of its strategy for raising the standard of public transport.[2]

3. Ticketing is an area which has seen rapid change in recent years: paper tickets served the railways for 150 years and the magnetic stripe ticket for 30 years.[3] Contactless smartcards, usually in the form of a plastic card with an embedded chip that can be read without being inserted into a machine, have been in use for around 10 years and in London the Oyster card is now commonplace. However, even these systems are being challenged by new technologies, such as ticketing chips or screen displays in mobile phones and combined travel, credit and bank cards.[4] We are grateful to Transys, who operate the Oyster system[5] on behalf of Transport for London (TfL), for showing us some of this new technology, as well as giving us a demonstration of the Oyster system.

4. The latest rail franchises have varying commitments to introduce smartcard ticketing, and arrangements are in hand to extend the Oyster Pay-as-you-Go system throughout the National Rail network in London by 2010. It is already available on some routes. A zonal fares structure has been introduced and station equipment to facilitate smartcard use is to be installed, including ticket gates at Waterloo.

5. Smartcards offer a range of new possibilities but it is important to remember that integrated ticketing and smartcards are separate, though related, issues. Greater integration can be achieved without smartcards and smartcards do not, in themselves, produce integrated ticketing arrangements. Technology must be the servant and not the master, assisting with the implementation of policy, not dictating its direction.

1   Transport Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2005-06, How fair are the fares? Train fares and ticketing, HC 700 Back

2   Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, A New Deal for Transport - Better for Everyone, Cm 3950, July 1998 Back

3   Q 71 Back

4   The Barclaycard "OnePulse" card combines Oyster, a credit card and a cashless payment card. In November 2007, the mobile phone operator O2 launched a trial of 500 telephones with embedded Oyster cards. Back

5   See Section 3 for an explanation of Oyster Back

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