When Transport bosses first set out ambitious plans to offer contactless smart travel across the North, the vision was of a streamlined ticketing system allowing passengers to use buses, trams and trains on the same journey without having to make separate payments and with a capped maximum price.
Yet that will not be the reality for many long-suffering public transport users - at least in the short term, after big bus companies, which already have their own contactless schemes, refused to support the £150m plan.
Transport for the North is instead changing tack, focusing its pay-as-you-go travel on rail operators, with hopes of bringing buses on board at some stage in the future.
But without a central ticketing system, passengers who rely on multiple modes of transport will be left without a simpler way to pay - and customers will miss out on the ‘fair price promise’ set out as part of TfN’s original vision to encourage people to travel across the North for work.
Such a fractured system is yet another example of how far the North still has to go in order for transport to be able to compete with the likes of London, where commuters have long taken a comprehensive smart travel programme, and the convenience it offers, for granted. And it is also further argument for the Government to adequately support the North’s transport system by awarding greater powers to TfN, which, with no ability to compel operators to sign up to a smart travel scheme, is at a disadvantage compared to Transport for London.
The body has claimed it now plans to develop more localised smart ticketing schemes, including integration with buses, to help deliver on its original plan. But it has not yet set out how these would work. What is key is ensuring that any such systems would fit together in a way that best supports the health of the Northern economy.