Renewed hopes of London-style transport smart card for North East

There are renewed hopes of creating a London-style system that could allow people to travel across multiple forms of public transport in the North East with a single smart card – but not with contactless payment.

There are hopes of a new smart-ticketing system being introduced to improve transport services in the North East
There are hopes of a new smart-ticketing system being introduced to improve transport services in the North East

The region’s leaders were left dismayed earlier this year when the Government axed £105million of funding to install smart ticketing infrastructure across the North.

The “appalling” cuts to Transport for the North’s budget dealt a severe blow to long-held ambitions of establishing a system whereby passengers could use an Oyster-like smartcard or a contactless bank card to travel across any bus, Metro, or train service in the North East

On Monday, the Government did unveil a £3billion shake-up of the nation’s bus services, promising integrated services and ticketing across different modes of transport as well as cheaper fares and hundreds of miles of new bus lanes.

But local public transport officials have also confirmed an imminent step forward in their own integrated ticketing plans.

Starting this spring, people who have a Tyne and Wear Metro Pop card will be able to use that on buses too.

At first, the initiative will only will only work for people who want to buy a digital version of the existing ‘Network One’ season ticket – a paper ticket that can be used across most buses in Tyne and Wear, the Metro, the Sunderland to Blaydon Rail Line, and the Shields Ferry.

But transport bosses say that it will “hopefully” be used in the future for pay as you go travel rather than just season tickets, that work is “ongoing” to enable the Pop cards to be read on other local rail services too, and that the available tickets will be extended to cover County Durham and Northumberland services later this year.

However, there remains no funding yet for a system whereby passengers could tap in and out of various modes of transport using a contactless bank card, something that has been available in London since 2014, though that idea remains part of a £7billion transport wishlist that North East leaders are urging the Government to fund.

In the North East Transport Plan published last week, which lists almost 250 projects to be delivered by 2035, the development of a “multimodal smart ticketing solution” is listed as an ambition for delivery in the next five years.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), said: “It’s great news that we are able to deliver greater choice for passengers across the region as a result of collaboration between local authorities, the bus operators and Nexus.

“We know that passengers want simplified ticketing and this is the start of our long-term plans on integrated products for passengers as outlined in the Transport Plan.

“We believe that by working together with bus operators we will find a way to overcome the many challenges the region has faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As always, passenger experience is front and centre of everything we do, and we’ll work to recover from the impact of Covid together.”

At a meeting of the JTC this Tuesday, councillors will be asked to approve the start of a project to create a formal bus partnership between local council and the region’s various commercial bus operators – intended to help unlock government funding to help services recover from the devastating financial effects of the pandemic and to give elected officials greater influence over crucial services.

The Government has said that only regions that have created such a partnership will be given access to continued support or any new sources of funding from the £3billion announced on Monday.

Martijn Gilbert, chair of North East bus operators association NEbus, said: “Working together in partnership will be critical to the good recovery of the regions transport network and, in turn, our towns and cities.

“We already have tickets that can be used between buses, the Metro, Ferry and Rail and are about to see annual tickets moved onto smart cards, but we know more need to be done.

“Bus operators already have smartcard and contactless bankcard enabled ticketing and we hope the plan will enable funding for rail and Metro system ticketing to be upgraded so we can all work even better together.”