Minister wants transport smartcard plan accelerated

Travellers could soon be able to obtain a universal transport smartcard allowing them to use buses, trains and trams across Britain, transport minister Norman Baker has said.

Mr Baker said he had ordered officials to draw up plans to introduce the cards "within a few years", in order to encourage use of public transport. The scheme would aim to replicate nationwide the "fantastic success" of London's Oystercard, which can be used to pay for most forms of public transport in the capital.

Ultimately, the goal would be to allow seamless travel on one ticket throughout the country, although Mr Baker accepted that including long-distance rail journeys in the scheme may be complicated.

Train tickets over any great distance may well cost more than any likely credit limit on smartcards, and there are also complexities where a train company offers a promotional fare for a multi-stage journey involving more than one operator.

Users would be able to top up the credit on their cards in shops, online or by phone, with fares automatically deducted by card-reading technology on buses and trains. The cost of the scheme would be met by private bus and rail operators. Major bus companies are already rolling out readers for the concessionary bus passes offered to over-60s and some other groups, which comply with the so-called ITSO specification, and recently-renewed rail franchises have included a requirement to introduce ITSO smartcards.

Mr Baker told the Sunday Express: "The aim is that you get one smartcard ticket which enables you to use it whether you are in Bristol on the bus, on the Tube in London or in Newcastle on the Metro."

Enabling people to make all their journeys on the same card would give them "more confidence" to use public transport and would cut the administrative costs connected to selling tickets, making travel cheaper, he said.

"It won't be overnight, but I've asked my officials to bring forward the old target date of 2020 to within a few years," said Mr Baker.

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