Multi-operator smartcards accepted by the UK’s five largest operating groups have now been rolled out in all of England’s major city regions. These allow travel on different bus operators’ vehicles in their respective metropolitan area: Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, South and West Yorkshire, or in the cities of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol. The initiative has been delivered through significant private investment by Stagecoach, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead, Arriva and National Express with support from transport authority partners. Collectively, the five companies operate around six out of every ten buses in the UK. At the same time, the cost of multi-operator travel has been reduced in a number of areas, with some prices cut by around 20%.
The cards support improved accessibility of buses and connectivity between locations for around 15m people living in the country’s nine biggest city regions within the DfT’s Smart Cities Partnership. These cover over 50 local authority areas and account for a quarter of the country’s jobs, as well as producing 23% of its economic output. The smart ticketing system’s launch is expected to help underpin the economy and growth aspirations of these key regions. The operators made a pledge in November 2014 to introduce the smart ticketing initiative by the end of 2015.
The five operating groups have also announced that they are working on a business case that could see contactless travel in place on every bus in Britain by 2022. This is expected to be completed by late spring 2016. The scheme would see new EMV contactless technology installed on every one of the UK’s 32,000-plus buses outside London. It would offer cashless travel for those who want it and capped pay-as-you-go-fares in all urban areas. Contactless transactions are already accepted on London’s 9,600 buses. Commuters in the capital were responsible for about a tenth of all UK contactless payments in December 2014. This new project would complement that scheme, covering more than 1,200 bus operators in England, Scotland and Wales, and making contactless travel available for 5.2 billion bus passenger journeys a year across Britain. Associated government legislation would be needed to ensure contactless ticketing was offered by all individual bus operators.