Bus firm on course to complete smartcard roll-out across Scotland

Stagecoach is on target to equip all its buses in Scotland with new smartcard ticket machines by spring next year.

The transport company has already fitted around 1,500 high-tech ERG TP5000 ticket machines in its Scottish buses, with around 400 left to deploy. So far, the machines have been used to facilitate well in excess of two million concessionary travel journeys in Scotland.

Currently, the use of smartcards in Scotland is limited to concessionary travel cardholders. The new machines will read the National Entitlement Card, making concession travel recording more accurate and reduce the likelihood of fraudulent behaviour, as well as making life easier for passengers.

Transport Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government, is managing and funding implementation of the National Entitlement Card scheme, which provides free travel to those aged over 60 and many disabled people on any scheduled bus service in Scotland.

It is the first time the technology has been introduced in an entire country rather than a city. The only similar schemes on such a scale are in cities such as Hong Kong and London.

Gordon Hanning, head of the Concessionary Travel and Integrated Ticketing Unit at Transport Scotland, said: “Transport Scotland has been working with bus operators and ticketing suppliers to ensure the roll out of the electronic ticketing machines on buses across Scotland is implemented as smoothly as possible. We anticipate the bulk of the entire Scottish bus fleet will be equipped with electronic ticketing machines by next spring and we are pleased operators such as Stagecoach are on target to achieve this.”

The Stagecoach programme of work in Scotland is part of a UK-wide initiative to install ITSO-certified machines on all 7,200 of the company's buses, working in partnership with local authorities as they prepare for introduction of national concessionary travel schemes using smartcards across the UK. So far the machines have been fitted on Stagecoach buses in Merseyside, Cambridgeshire, the South West, and Wales.

In Merseyside the machines will enable Stagecoach to take part in a ground-breaking project, in partnership with Mastercard and the Royal Bank of Scotland, to trial "smart" credit and debit card payment of bus fares, without the need to carry cash or a travelcard.

Separately, a storm is brewing over the ITSO organisation's announcement that it is withdrawing support for NXP's Mifare Classic chip, which is used in many transport smartcards including the Scottish one. Dutch researchers who successfully broke the Classic's security published details of their work earlier this year.

ITSO's response means that card issuers will have to switch to cards using a different chip from the beginning of 2010 and replace all existing cards by 2016. Sid Bulloch, who heads the National Entitlement Card programme in Scotland, is reported to have called the decision "arbitrary", adding that it "appears to take little or no consideration of the financial, political or business implications for government and for the wider use of smartcards".

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