PTEG SmartZone report criticised

PTEG’s recent report into the Oxford SmartZone has been criticised by the operators of the interoperable smartcard scheme. One of the document’s key findings was that the urban bus network is almost entirely concentrated in the hands of only two main operating groups, whose services overlap on all of the six main corridors radiating from the city centre. Moreover, it remarks that the two operating groups each have close to a 50% market share.

PTEG said its analysis of the overall bus ticketing offer in Oxford and the surrounding area highlights a number of potential weaknesses of an operator-led solution. Firstly, the report claimed pricing is jointly determined by Go-Ahead and Stagecoach, without any oversight or involvement from third parties (including the LTA). The group believes it could be argued that SmartZone has made an already complex ticketing offer even more complicated. The SmartZone system also suffers from a lack of common branding or consistent marketing and information, which contribute to a confusing user experience, according to the Group.
SmartZone is not a truly integrated solution or a common smart ticketing platform, claims PTEG. This, it says, reduces the potential cost savings and wider benefits from smart ticketing and is also likely to create some operational challenges for the future expansion of the scheme. Not all of its findings were negative though. The report claimed SmartZone does demonstrate that private operators working in a deregulated environment can implement inter-operable tickets on smart media with limited local authority involvement.

PTEG has just completed a review of the Oxford SmartZone scheme that was implemented in 2011. The SmartZone operators, Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach and Thames Travel feel that not all of the conclusions reached are factually correct. The three companies believe the review would have been better informed had they actually consulted the local operators and local authorities in Oxford and understood the context of the scheme.

In a joint statement the SmartZone operators said, ‘Every smartcard scheme has to reflect the market in which it is delivered and we are disappointed that PTEG did not approach us so that the conclusions reached were based on facts rather than guess work.’

‘The Oxford SmartZone scheme has been in place for nearly four years now and 98% of users were either satisfied or very satisfied with the product with 28% of passengers making more journeys as a result of the scheme according to the Passenger Focus Report published in September 2013.’

‘PTEG criticise the scheme as it is not multi modal but it serves a local transport market within Oxford which is only served by buses. Were local rail a key part of the city travel market, it would have been designed to be multi modal and there is nothing about the scheme which would prevent it becoming multi modal if required.’

‘We accept that elements of the marketing of the scheme can be improved upon to increase awareness and more work will be done in this area, but we don’t see the lack of a single brand on the smartcard itself as an issue. Indeed, we see the use of the separate websites and retail networks of the operators involved as a strength rather than a weakness. The notion of a single card like Oyster in London is no longer relevant to a market environment where Smart products will be increasingly fulfilled onto different cards, contactless credit cards and directly to mobile phones. Oxford SmartZone is structured to take advantage of those changing technologies.’

‘In Oxford neither the City Council nor the County Council see any need for them to be directly involved in the mechanics of ticketing although they were fully consulted and involved in the development of the scheme and its success is confirmed by the fact that in the last four years the total number of bus passenger journeys in Oxfordshire have risen by 21% and the number of journeys per head of population rose by 17% and this is a result that we are all proud of. The SmartZone scheme has contributed directly to this success.’

Go to to download the report.

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