Interviews

16.01.14

Confidence in contactless

More operators and transport authorities are making big strides on simplifying and modernising payment options for rail and tram tickets – and some are getting rid of tickets altogether. Adam Hewitt reports.

Transport for London is soon to introduce ‘wave and pay’ contactless payment across the Tube, DLR and Overground. London's bus network adopted the new system in late 2012.

Although the implementation on rail has been delayed – TfL’s director of customer experience, Shashi Verma, told RTM early last year that it would be in place by the end of 2013 – when it does come in, it will be a major change, allowing passengers to treat their bank card like an Oyster card.

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The benefits for occasional travellers and tourists especially will be notable, and it is another way of getting cumbersome cash out of the system.

Other parts of the country are taking similar steps. Manchester’s ‘get me there’ scheme, which will include an ITSO-compliant system card / smartcard element, also includes contactless payment for Metrolink travel from later this year. Transport for Greater Manchester says: “With a contactless card, you’ll be able to simply touch in and touch out at the start and end of every journey. The cost of all your journeys during the course of the day will be totted up and then deducted from your bank account overnight.

“However many journeys you make during the day, you will never be charged more than the all zones one-day travelcard fare. On top of that, the fares for your individual journeys will be at a discount compared to the cost of a printed ticket.”

TfGM told RTM: “Our message to customers using contactless is that no matter how many journeys they make in a day, they will never be charged more than the price of a daily travelcard.”

The Metrolink light rail network is not gated and there are no plans to introduce ticket gates. RTM asked TfGM how it intends to deter fraud and check passengers have paid via contactless, with no paper ticket and no gates, and it said that its passenger service teams on the trams and at stations will carry hand-held readers that can read contactless cards. Although the readers do not have the capability to tell if the customer has touched in as they should have done, they will be able to capture the card’s details.

If the passenger has not touched in (the equivalent of not buying a ticket), the back office will know this and will do two things: deduct the ‘standard fare’ from the card (effectively a hefty fine), and block that card from future use on the system. Customers would have to make contact with TfGM to have their card unblocked.

TfGM added: “Contactless has been included in get me there as the system is about making public transport convenient and easier to choose, but our marketing will always encourage customers to take the system card route.”

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When new rail franchises for the region are agreed in 2016, TfGM has said it wants to integrate them with its ‘get me there’ system as soon as possible.

Merseyrail is also making progress on contactless. It launched contactless payment in November 2013, although for now it is just a new payment option for buying traditional paper tickets. It is not a ‘touch in / touch out’ system.

But Anouska Ladds, head of travel, transit and leisure at MasterCard, told RTM that this is a “first step”, with further developments expected.

Ladds acknowledged: “There are definitely nuances outside of London. It would be very difficult for rail operators and transport authorities to take the model that’s been developed for London and use it within their own networks.”

Merseytravel is also looking at an ITSO-based smartcard system, called Walrus, but its implementation has been beset by delays and a decision last year to put its full roll-out on hold pending a business case review. Merseytravel had already spent £450,000, via a DfT grant, on upgrading its gated stations with ITSO card readers.

Ladds said that the important thing was offering choice to passengers, and that some might prefer to use cash, others to use smartcard systems, but that contactless bank card payments would suit many because of their speed and convenience. The vast majority of transport transactions outside London are still cash, against which MasterCard is “waging war”, Ladds said.

She said that TfL’s implementation of wave and pay sparked a wave of interest up and down the country, noting that many of the operators and authorities currently looking at upgrading or installing smartcard readers are also looking at implementing contactless payment at the same time.

“Each city and operator will review what’s the best technology for them,” she said. “Consumers are drawing upon experiences from all kinds of purchases, not just transit. They want to get through the process as quickly as possible. I don’t think paper tickets are going to be the answer in five or 10 years’ time; things will evolve. Transit networks and operators are so different outside London, but introducing contactless is a big step – but then the question is ‘where do we go from here’?”

Merseyrail managing director Maarten Spaargaren (pictured below with Anouska Ladds) said: “This development is a very positive one for our customers and means that they can now make payments quicker and easier than ever before, in full knowledge that they are doing so safely and securely. We’re keen to keep pace with an increasingly technological world and delighted to be trailblazing this digital advancement.”

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