Death of paperless tickets greatly exaggerated


As many passengers rushed to renew annual season tickets before the latest round of price increases, Transport Network has an update on the Government’s struggles to use smartcard technology to roll-out paperless and ‘smart’ ticketing.


Late last month Southeastern announced a ‘swansong for paper train tickets’ as it launched an improved version of its The Key smartcard.

As well as season tickets, the card can now be used for a wide range of single and return fares, such as Anytime Singles and Returns; Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak Singles and Returns and One Day Travelcards for journeys starting out of London.

Steve Lamey, the DfT's smart ticketing programme director (second from left) helps hold up an oversized smartcard

However, while the card can be used across the Southeastern network, at some London stations managed by other train operating companies (TOCs) and at all locations covered by a Travelcard loaded onto it, it cannot be used for other journeys across the rail network, including many cross-London journeys.

A Southeastern spokesman told Transport Network that further interoperability to all other TOC routes is expected to be available in 2019. The Government promised that by the end of 2018, both smartcard and barcode tickets would be accepted on almost all of the network through a £80m publicly funded programme.

Southeastern does not currently issue barcode tickets to any destinations. Its spokesman confirmed that paper tickets will be issued to destinations beyond the scope of The Key.

In addition, advance tickets, which usually have the cheapest fares, are not available on The Key. Southeastern explained that such tickets hold information like train specific data passengers can use, which includes seat reservations for journeys with other TOCs. These cannot be accommodated on a smartcard as it needs to be human readable and there are also some space constraints.

Beyond simply replacing paper tickets, smartcards are expected to be the method by which discounted fares for part-time travel or daily and weekly capping are delivered.

Southeastern said these benefits are ‘being considered by the industry’s rail fares consultation that Rail Delivery Group and Transport Focus held in 2018, and which is due to report in 2019’.

Railcard discounted tickets, including the new 26-30 Railcard, which launched on Tuesday (2 January) can be loaded onto The Key.

Southeastern has been promoting its smartcard to season ticket holders before many renew before the January price increase, as has South Western Railway (SWR), whose smartcard is called Touch, which runs services in and out of Waterloo.

South Western Railway

At the time of publication, the SWR website claimed, incorrectly, that: ‘You can use our smartcard all over the network.’

A downloadable map confirms this is not the case.

Areas where SWR runs services but Touch cannot be used include stations from Epsom to Dorking, which are operated by Southern.

A spokesperson for Southern told Transport Network that this issue will be resolved as part of the interoperability work to be completed in the first half of next year.

The fact that passengers travelling from stations between Dorking and Epsom to Waterloo cannot use Touch has not stopped SWR encouraging them to transfer their new season tickets to it, both in on-train announcements and on roadside posters such as one (pictured) at Epsom station.

SWR told Transport Network that its marketing team is looking into the location of announcements and posters to ensure promotion is only done in the correct areas.

A poster for SWR's Touch at Epsom

The spokesman confirmed that passengers travelling from stations between Epsom and Dorking can only use the Southern smartcard (also called the Key) for journeys into London.

This means that passengers travelling exclusively on an SWR service to and from Waterloo will need to use another TOC’s smartcard, while journeys to stations between Epsom and London Waterloo (apart from Clapham Junction) will not have a smartcard option.

These passengers will therefore miss out on limited ‘exclusive’ discounts on the Touch that make use of smart ticketing technology. These include a ‘carnet’, which offers passengers 10 Anytime day return tickets at a 5% discount, and a free monthly ticket for passengers who have previously bought the equivalent ticket for 11 consecutive months.

However, many passengers travelling from SWR stations to London three times a week will find it cheaper to buy a (paper) weekly season ticket than using three discounted carnet tickets.

In addition, passengers paying for 11 monthly tickets would also pay more than the cost of an annual season ticket.


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