/ Travel & Leisure

National ‘Oyster card’ scheme brought forward

Smart card chip

Can you imagine travelling around the country with just one ticket? Plans for a ‘smartcard’ that’ll work on everything from London’s Tube to Edinburgh’s eventual tram network have been brought forward.

A plastic smartcard for use on Britain’s trains, trams, buses and even cycle schemes could be with us in just a few years. Transport Minister Norman Baker yesterday announced the roll-out had been ordered for completion ahead of its previous 2020 deadline.

What’s not to like about a countrywide version of London’s Oyster cards? Scrap those paper tickets and bring on a system that’ll let you top up in shops, online or on the phone. Travelling Britain on public transport could be so much easier if our fares were automatically deducted after a quick scan.

So how’s the scheme going to be paid for? Will it come out of tax payers pockets? Apparently not. As most rail and bus operators are privately owned, it’ll be them who’ll pay the bill.

Plus, it’s predicted the scheme may save around £2 billion, meaning fare prices could come down across the country. These smartcards might also force the standardisation of currently inconsistent peak train times. Now that’ll be the day. Our rail expert James Tallack had these words of caution for the scheme:

“A national smartcard is a good idea, but there’s still plenty of work to be done before this becomes a reality. It took a long time for the train companies to accept ‘pay as you go’ fares on Oyster in London because none of them operated a zonal, distance-based pricing system.

“Outside of London, however, the byzantine system of individually-priced station-to-station fares persists. This must be ironed out so that we’re in a situation where it costs the same to travel a mile on one train company as it does on another.”

A seamless ticket system for this country’s public transport could revolutionise the way we travel, reduce fare prices, and will probably tempt more people to get the bus, train, or whatever mode of transport floats your boat (yes, them too).

Baker admitted the scheme wouldn’t happen overnight, the switch will be incredibly complex and expensive long-haul journeys could be a bit of a problem, but I, for one, can’t wait.

Peter Hutchinson says:
7 September 2010

It’s a great idea but the IT backing it up needs to be much more reliable than the current Oyster system which often misses journeys out of the online journey history. It is important that any system automatically taking money from an account is fully accountable.

Why just have a card for public transport?

Include everything (library membership, health service details, driving licence etc.) and call it a national identity card.

It’s got to happen sooner or later. I carry nine cards in my wallet and that’s a waste.

Marcus says:
7 September 2010

Ah, yes, perfect for Big Brother who wants to keep track of where we have been…

Waylander101 says:
7 September 2010

A little paranoid on that one mate.

Anything that makes a commute from Kent to London (bus-train-tube-bus each way) is a good thing.

Ian Dent, Cambridge says:
8 September 2010

This new TRAVEL SMARTCARD reflects a move to what the European Commission calls “The Information Society” – a new super economy, controlled, increasingly by partnerships between governments and the global ICT industry. University of Cambridge researcher, Ian Dent claims that the media revolution of the last decade and an increasing movement of peoples, has meant that governments no longer feel that they can rely on traditional methods of governance. This card has the potential to add to a ‘profiling’ of each citizen in order to restore that control.

Ian Dent warns that the TRAVEL SMARTCARD is only one example of how expedience, and an unregulated research community are pressing ahead with the development of technologies which could seriously damage civil liberties. The new Government’s enthusiasm for smart technologies matches the position of their predecessors, who committed millions to the development of a range of e-technologies to track, control, and profile UK citizens.