Smart and integrated ticketing in the north

John Henkel, executive sponsor for the Smart North programme, looks at the economic case for smart ticketing in the north.

The economy of the UK is unbalanced, with London and the south east outperforming the rest of the country. 

The Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, which was commissioned by Transport for the North (TfN) in 2016, highlighted that for the last 30 years, GVA per capita in the north of England has been consistently about 25% below the average for the rest of England, and 10-15% below the England average excluding London. 

Whilst levels of unemployment have an impact on the north’s GVA, the review found that productivity accounts for the largest proportion of the ‘performance gap’ with the rest of England. 

The main factors driving this productivity gap were identified as: 

  • Insufficient high-skilled workers and too many low-skilled workers
  • Insufficient exploitation of innovation and technology
  • Lower levels of investment
  • Lower levels of enterprise (measured by business start-ups per capita)
  • Lack of agglomeration
  • Sub-optimal transport links and underinvestment in transport 

This persistent economic gap between the north and the national average necessitates a radical change in the economy of the north, and investment in transport infrastructure and services is fundamental to delivering this change. 

TfN, which is due to become the first sub-national transport body in 2017, is charged with driving transport investment and is developing a pan-Northern Strategic Transport Plan based upon transformational improvements to road and rail, freight movement, international connectivity and integrated and smart travel.

Integrated and smart travel programme 

TfN’s ‘integrated and smart travel programme’ complements its wider agenda by enhancing the usability and attractiveness of public transport services across the north through simple and clear pricing structures, enhanced information services and easy ways to pay for travel. The programme vision is: 

  • Make it easier to work out the best options: Provide joined-up information both for planning journeys and for updating customers on any changes whilst travelling 
  • Make the pricing simple to understand: Provide a clearer-to-understand fare structure, especially within urban areas, initially offering a joined-up ‘pay as you go’ service across all urban areas, and then developing this further so that customers can be offered a ‘fair price promise’, which gives them the reassurance that they are getting a good fare for multiple trips 
  • Make it easier to pay: To allow most customers to simply turn up and travel, using one of a range of smart devices as their ticket. All their travel across the region can be managed from a single account 

The programme is focused on delivering a customer proposition that is centred on the following customer experience principles: confidence, simplicity, flexibility, convenience, informed and consistency. 

TfN has the remit to develop a pan-northern approach and, working closely with partners, has set out a programme that will deliver customer benefits through a phased approach over the next eight years. A programme approach has been adopted as this mitigates some risks, as well as providing early customer benefits as the business case for each element is made. It also facilitates consideration of changes in customer aspirations and developments in technology, such as the use of smartphones for journey planning as well as ticketing and payment. 

The end result will be a ‘tap-in’ smart and integrated ticketing system which can be used on all public transport modes across the north. This will be accompanied by a ‘fair-price promise’, so that customers will know their combined fares would not exceed the cost of a daily/weekly travelcard or similar product. In parallel, customers will be supported at all stages of their journey through journey planners, disruption messaging and customer support services. 

In the short term, the programme seeks to exploit previous investment in ITSO smartcard ticketing systems, whilst developing the systems and infrastructure for customers to use a contactless bank card or ITSO smartcard as a token (or mobile phone emulating these), with a ‘fair price’ promise for what they will be charged.  

TfN is therefore working alongside the DfT, Rail Delivery Group, Rail North, Arriva Trains Northern and First TransPennine, Merseytravel and Merseyrail to offer customers the opportunity to use ITSO smartcards for rail travel from 2017-18 – in line with the secretary of state’s ambition for smart ticketing on the rail network and complementing TOC plans for barcode ticketing. TfN also has a key role on the delivery board for the National Programme to ensure alignment and complementarity between that national and northern programmes.

For more information




Coinneach   25/03/2017 at 14:03

Obviously after Ms. May's comments about British unity, I though the North meant the North of the U.K. Of course it doesn't, it means the North of England! Silly me!

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