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Rail passengers will win after general election – but by how much?

Guest blog by Russell McCullagh

Much is being made of the likelihood of a hung parliament at the UK general election, of coalitions and of deals being struck behind closed doors.

It all points to uncertainty and speculation about many of our most important public services. Doctors, police officers, civil servants and many more will be wondering what the next five years will hold for them.

The opposite is true for rail passengers. All three main parties have committed to developing nationwide smart ticketing, particularly on the railways, as part of their election manifestos. It’s a victory for the rail network; it’s a victory of integrated travel and for modernising our very old transport network. Whatever the shape of the next government, we know that, over time, travelling will be more convenient.

It would be easy to rest on our laurels at this point. As a smart infrastructure business we are at the tip of this particular spear and work alongside some of the UK’s largest transport hubs already – those that have successfully installed smart ticketing and mobile or contactless technology are seeing decreases in queuing, increases in passenger numbers and are reaping the rewards of a host of new data sets.

But we cannot sit back and wait for smart ticketing to happen. We have to ask for more. Why? Because the technology is capable of being integrated across platforms and devices, it would be a missed opportunity not to ensure our national ticketing and payment infrastructure has some flexibility. It is, for example, already possible to upload cash securely onto a travel smartcard. You could buy your daily newspaper and morning coffee alongside your train ticket with the same card at the same time.

There is a growing trend towards account-based smart ticketing, where applications for reward schemes, loyalty points, even cinema tickets can all be added onto one smartcard. It’s also possible to store and upload content in the cloud rather than physically at a gate. Indeed, the rise of mobile technology means tickets are not the only things you can send to your mobile phone, and as they are the device of choice for most consumers, a simple transition to smart ticketing should include remote, mobile solutions.

All these options are open to decision-makers. Ensuring national consistency with these points is important. The investment cost of a more wholesome approach to smart technology in transport would not be prohibitive – and the long term benefits would make our transport network fit for purpose for the 21st century. Smartcards may be leading the way, but the future is far more flexible and much more exciting.

Whichever party leads our government in the future, we have to ask for more.

Russell McCullagh is managing director of Ecebs


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