Under plans to be published by the Department for Transport (DfT) later this year, rail firms will be expected to introduce new forms of “ticketless travel” across their networks.
These will allow commuters and long-distance travellers to pay for a ticket online and then use their credit card to open platform barriers. In the longer term, customers will also be able to use their phones in a similar way, replacing the need for season tickets and Oyster cards.
The scheme will initially start across London at the end of this year but ministers expect the technology to be rolled out rapidly across the national rail network, starting in the South-east. The system makes use of contactless payment systems already embedded into millions of credit and debit cards – and soon to be included in smartphones. This allows customers to book a ticket online or on their phone and then use the same card to identify themselves electronically at ticket barriers.
In London the new scheme will eventually replace the hugely successful Oyster card system. Rather than having a separate card, customers will simply use their normal bank card to open gates on the Tube. Travellers will also no longer need to buy weekly or monthly season tickets as the system will automatically calculate when their travel has exceeded the cost of those tickets – and stop charging.
But while Transport for London (TfL) has been at the forefront of using technology to make travel easier, ministers have been frustrated at the slow rate of change on the national rail network. They have now asked officials to draw up detailed proposals for how the scheme can be extended and possibly included as part of forthcoming rail-franchise rounds.
One government source said: “If you can pay for a flight using your phone and then use the same device as your boarding card there is no reason at all why you should need a paper ticket to get on a train. It’s madness that while you can book a ticket online you then have to go to a ticket machine and type in a long security number just to get a ticket.
“We already have the technical ability to do this with the barriers and computer systems that we have – it’s just a question of ensuring the train-operating companies put the effort into making this happen.”
The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said: “The journey from buying tickets online to taking your seat on the train is too complicated at the moment. By harnessing the latest technology to make the ticketing process easier, we can vastly improve the passenger experience.”
The DfT is also looking at whether it can introduce budget-airline-style pricing to manage demand across the rail network more effectively. On the Underground, TfL is working on technology which would allow passengers waiting at a station to see exactly how full scheduled trains are and whether it is worth waiting for the next one.