Political leaders on Transport for the North have agreed on a way forward for its Integrated and Smart Travel Programme, which was originally meant to allow passengers to use contactless bank cards to travel on buses, trams, trains and ferries on the same journey across the North with a fixed maximum price.
The Yorkshire Post revealed last year that the future of the £150m scheme was thrown into jeopardy after bus firms such as Arriva, First Go-Ahead, Stagecoach and Transdev refused to co-operate as they already have their own contactless schemes.
At a private meeting in Leeds TfN's board agreed to change tack and focus its contactless pay-as-you-go travel plans on rail operators with the aim of bringing the bus firms on board at some stage in the future.
According to a confidential report seen by The Yorkshire Post, this means the strategic transport body will be forced to cancel the setting up of the back office office processing system, known as ABBOT, which would have worked out the cost of journeys on different modes of transport.
Officials are also working with combined authority bosses on delivering local smart ticketing schemes around the region with the money saved by not moving ahead with the original plan.
But they have admitted that scaling back the original plan means that, at least in the short term, customers will not get the 'fair price promise' set out as part of TfN's original vision to encourage people to travel across the North for work.
Bus companies are reluctant to sign up to the TfN scheme because their have already spent money on their own contactless technology and believe they can respond more quickly to changes in the industry with control of their own systems.
The bus industry is already moving ahead with its own contactless and pay-as-you-go plans, with contactless ticketing now available on more than 90 per cent of buses nationwide and ticketing with a maximum 'capped' daily or weekly charge in areas including Doncaster.
Big firms have committed to delivering price-capped daily and weekly tickets that can be used across different operators in major urban areas by 2022.
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: "Bus operators and Transport for the North (TfN) have a shared objective and commitment to make public transport ticketing simpler and more accessible for customers.
"Following TfN’s decision to focus on the rail sector in the near term, we will continue to improve our customer offer by working together to deliver simpler ticketing across a range of platforms around the country. This includes introducing the first multi-operator capped ticketing scheme by Autumn 2020."
Though the stalled third phase of the integrated and smart travel project is the highest-profile and most ambitious, phase one has seen the deployment of smartcards designed to make rail travel easier and more convenient than with paper tickets. Millions of journeys have been loaded onto smartcards so far.
The second phase, making the same kind of information currently used by most rail passengers available to bus and light rail passengers, is also progressing well.
The vision for phase three of the scheme is that rather than buying multiple separate tickets to travel on different modes of transport - each with its own cost - on a journey to work across the North, commuters from Liverpool, Sheffield or Newcastle can pay for it all using a contactless bank card with a capped daily or weekly fare at the end.
A spokeswoman for Transport for the North said: “We believe the North’s passengers deserve a simpler and more seamless way to pay for public transport and have been working on a central ticketing scheme that would cover all the different modes and operators.
“Over recent months we have been consulting with our Partners and public transport operators to consider the evolving smart ticketing landscape.
"Based on this the Transport for the North Board has agreed to a revised delivery approach which will see us working primarily with our region’s train operating companies in the aim of delivering contactless pay-as-you-go travel on rail, to be integrated with bus and other modes at a future date.
“We will also be working with our Local Transport Authority partners to develop localised smart ticketing schemes - including integration with bus - that would combine to help deliver on our original vision for multi-operator, multi-model smart ticketing.
“Other aspects of the programme – including rollout of smart cards across the North’s rail network – continue at pace.”
Mark Parry of the Campaign for Better Transport, West & North Yorkshire Branch, described the development as a "major disappointment".
He said:"The equivalent Oyster card scheme in London has been especially successful in making travel easy across all modes of public transport.
"Whatever the underlying reason behind this, it is important that passengers have access to an easy to understand range of tickets from which to choose one that suits them.
"This smart card option is certainly a popular one and one that will attract more people onto public transport and reduced the congestion and pollution on our roads. The planet needs this scheme, we need it."
Cancelling the procurement of the ABBOT system and creating a new back office function just for rail would likely delay the scheme by nine months.
But TfN may be able to save between £30m and £40m by sharing a national rail back office that could be created as part of an overhaul of ticketing and retailing systems.
The report seen by The Yorkshire Post says the government-commissioned Williams Rail Review, which will be published later this year, may recommend such a shake-up and a new central system for account-based ticketing.