The Saltire card

The Saltire card

Source: Rail Technology Magazine October/November 2012

The Scottish Government is introducing a country-wide travel smartcard to improve access across all different modes of transport. Kate Ashley reports.

In October, the Scottish Government announced plans for the Saltire Card – a smartcard that can be used across public transport networks in Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the project, which will allow passengers to pre-load money to use on trains, buses, ferries, subways and trams to deliver cash-free travel and boost tourism.

It could also offer the opportunity for cut-price travel and flexible pricing.

Government initiative

The Scottish Government is working with ScotRail to deliver the largest rail smart ticketing pilot in the UK, as a key element of the new franchise from 2014.

Sturgeon said: “The Saltire Card will be a hugely exciting development for transport in Scotland and will help us achieve a truly worldclass public transport network.

“It will make it easier, more a t t r a c t i v e and possibly cheaper for people to get around using public transport and will help further connect our cities.

“While we are aware that there is still some substantial work to do on this proposal, we are now taking the first steps towards achieving this vision by launching a series of demonstrator schemes with a number of operators and public sector partners throughout the country.

“Bus operators are already Smart Card-enabled and many are already working in partnership with Transport Scotland to see how they can fully realise the benefits of the technology and how they can integrate with other operators to share those benefits with passengers.”


Transport Scotland told RTM that the organisation has been working with local authorities, regional transport partnerships and transport operators to develop a number of demonstrator projects across Scotland, across modes and focusing on a number of different types of smart products. Further demonstrator projects are continuing to be established in the wake of the publication of the Delivery Strategy.

Considering the advantages of multimodal smart-ticketing, a spokesperson said: “Multi-modal smart products will take us towards our vision that all journeys on Scotland’s bus, rail, ferry, subway and tram networks can be accessed using some form of smart ticketing or payment.

“For passengers this should deliver ease of use, access to new ticket types and greater choice on how to pay for travel, and should lead to modal shift towards public transport. We particularly see new opportunities to develop smart products that are attractive to visitors to Scotland.”

As the industry recognises the importance of integrated transport, this kind of scheme could become more common, and is certainly something the English railway will be keeping its eye on as smartcard schemes are continually developed and rolled out.

The spokeswoman explained: “The aim of the demonstrator projects is to develop several different types of smart products, some of which will be integrated and some of which will be more aimed at the more established ticket types. In all cases, the cooperation of industry partners is absolutely essential.

“We are working hard to bring all of Scotland’s public transport operators in on the Saltire Card so that they can also realise the benefits of attracting more people onto public transport. If there is widespread demand for integrated products we want to be in a position to meet that demand.”


The challenges surrounding the scheme concern the huge scale of the operation, and the number of different modes of transport the card must be made compatible for.

The spokesperson concluded: “We are aware that there are a number of challenges, for example, making the Smart Card technology compatible for use on ferries. We have around 260 bus operators alone in Scotland, alongside our ferry, train, subway and soon our tram operators. So we are under no illusion that it will be an easy task to develop what will be the UK’s biggest smartcard project.

“However, the stream of work is already well underway specifically targeting each of these challenges."

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