Why there could be trouble on the cards for Yorkshire's smart ticketing revolution

The YP has learned that attempts to introduce something similar across Yorkshire and the rest of the North - a move seen as key to creating a super-charged economy that can compete with the rest of the world - have now run into trouble.
The YP has learned that attempts to introduce something similar across Yorkshire and the rest of the North - a move seen as key to creating a super-charged economy that can compete with the rest of the world - have now run into trouble.
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It's a vision at the heart of the long-term plan to better connect the 15 million people living in northern England and help bridge the long-standing transport and wealth divide with more prosperous London.

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 and Newcastle can pay for it all using a contactless bank card with a capped daily or weekly fare at the end.

According to Transport for the North, "this means they will never pay more for a pay-as-you-go collection of daily or weekly journeys than they would if they had bought the best value day saver ticket".

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The account-based ticketing system already well in London, where tourists and workers in the capital can make as many 'pay-as-you-go' journeys on the tube, trains or bus as they like in one day or week and can be assured they will pay the best possible price.

But The Yorkshire Post has learned that attempts to introduce something similar across Yorkshire and the rest of the North - a move seen as key to creating a super-charged economy that can compete with the rest of the world - have now run into trouble.

According to confidential TfN board papers seen by this newspaper, efforts to create a back-office ticketing system known as ABBOT to process transactions involving multiple operators have been undermined by a lack of support from big bus firms who are vital to the scheme's success.

A report that went before TfN's board last month said that without the bus operators' involvement the system would not be processing enough transactions to be viable or enough coverage to "allow multi-mode multi-operator delivery". The uncertainty meant the project was delayed by five months.

"Unlike London, which is a regulated market, we cannot compel operators to take part," it said. "This situation means this continues to be a significant element of risk to the successful delivery of ABBOT.

"Failure of the bus operators to commit to the scheme as currently constituted would require Transport for the North to reassess the system as currently envisaged."

A few days later, the fears expressed in the report came to pass, with TfN chief executive Barry White revealing in a memo to metro mayors that while train firms and some bus operators had thrown their support behind the project, "commitment from the larger bus operators is not strong enough".

It means the current strategy for the scheme has been paused while alternatives are considered, including limiting the scheme to the operators already in place, or a "hybrid solution where the TfN technology works with that used by bus operators." These options will be considered by northern transport bosses on July 31.

It is understood that major bus firms have concerns that the ABBOT system is not the most suitable and effective way of processing payments.

A First Bus spokeswoman said the firm "already offers contactless card payment on all its bus services" and had "invested heavily in our ticketing equipment, and in developing our mobile app to make alternative payment methods available to our customers".

She said: "We are working with colleagues in the bus industry to develop capped daily and weekly payment options across all bus operators.

"We remain supportive of TfN’s objectives, but believe that our approach will deliver benefits to customers more quickly, having already delivered much of what TfN is seeking to procure without cost to the public purse.”

Graham Vidler, the chief executive of bus operator trade association CPT, said firms "wholeheartedly share TfN’s ambition to make ticketing simpler for passengers in Yorkshire and across the North of England".

He added: "To deliver TfN's ambition and maximise value for passengers we need a process which has operators and TfN working together to harness up to date technology to deliver a sustainable solution that meets everybody's needs."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We continue to support TfN’s ambition of delivering a multi-modal, multi-operator smart ticketing scheme to improve the travel experience for passengers across the North of England.

“We will work with TfN to ensure that any public funding delivers value for money to the taxpayer and maximises benefits for passengers.”