Chris Grayling: Smart ticket on journey to golden era for rail

Will paper train tickets become obsolete?
Will paper train tickets become obsolete?
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IN a world where I can even buy my lunch in the House of Commons tea room with my mobile phone, I should not have to queue for a paper ticket on my morning journey to work.

I have mandated my department and the industry to make rapid progress introducing smart ticketing across the network. The ingredients are there to deliver something much better – and we want to see these key reforms happen quickly.

I don’t really understand why it has taken so long. We need to get on with the job.

I think everyone commuting into our major towns and cities should be able to use mobile phones, contactless cards or smart cards for their ticket.

I want to see more pay-as-you-go options for rail travel, as passengers are able to do with Oyster cards in London, meaning no need to purchase a ticket ahead of travel.

By introducing KeyGo to their smartcard, Southern are due be the first operator to do this properly next year, maximising the benefit to passengers from investments in smart ticketing infrastructure made by the Department for Transport.

We now need to see other train companies offering similar choices to their passengers where the equipment is already available to support this and we need to ensure that the infrastructure needed spreads across all of our major cities.

I am delighted that the Chancellor has made £80m funding available through the Autumn Statement to support further infrastructure roll out for smart ticketing by the end of 2018. I have established a special transport project team in the department to take this forward, and I will personally be chairing the first 
Smart Ticketing Delivery Board with industry, Transport Focus and sub national transport bodies like
Transport for the North early in the
new year to further drive forward progress.

For longer distance travellers, they should be able to buy tickets online or on mobile phones, and use the barcode system to travel round the country without the need for a paper ticket. That technology is now being rolled out. We need to step up the pace.

The other thing that I can do which I hope and believe will help the passenger experience is to change the way in which we let franchises to train companies. On a network which needs substantial public subsidy and which needs billions of pounds of investment, it is right that we seek to maximise the revenue which flows back to the public purse.

But this cannot be done at the expense of the passenger experience. Franchising is delivering some real improvements – like the complete replacement of all the trains operating in East Anglia. But we also need to make sure that quality and train performance – and the passenger experience – are set at the heart of the franchise objectives and incentives that we set to a much greater degree than
they are at the moment. I believe we can push for quality and still achieve the financial performance that the taxpayer needs.

I will be reviewing how we do this for future franchise competitions, including the forthcoming East Midlands franchise competition. We need to recognise that some franchises are now very big. The West Coast Partnership proposals shows an imaginative response to running a railway and building HS2. They recognise that the skills required may involve more than one company. I am very open to better ideas for having our railways work for passengers.

If our railways are to cope with the challenges of today and tomorrow it will take more investment, new ways of working, new ways of funding improvements, more joined-up management, simpler structures, collaboration across the industry. We can and will make this a real golden era for rail. We can transform the passenger experience. We can create opportunities across our society.

We can and we will make sure our rail network plays its part in making this a country that works for everyone.

Chris Grayling is the Transport Secretary who set out his vision for the railways at the Policy Exchange think-tank. This is an edited version.