DfT 'loses track' of £80m smart ticketing programme


Labour’s shadow transport secretary has accused the Government of losing track of plans to expand smart ticketing across the rail network after ministers refused to say exactly what their £80m programme has achieved.

In October last year, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced an £80m funding package to deliver ‘smart ticketing’. It stated that the funding would ensure that ‘every passenger will have the choice of travelling without a paper ticket by the end of 2018’.


The DfT’s November 2017 Strategic Vision for Rail stated: ‘Our aim for 2018 is that, by the end of the year, both ITSO [smartcard] and barcode tickets will be accepted for travel on almost all of the network.’

As Transport Network has reported, both the DfT, which is co-ordinating the extension of smartcards, and industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which is responsible for extending the availability of barcode tickets, have struggled to make progress, partly because of problems with interoperability between firms.

The DfT has both dropped its pledge to allow all passengers to travel without a paper ticket and referred to passengers being able to use ‘at least one’ of smartcards or barcodes, instead of both, as previously pledged.

Andy McDonald, shadow secretary of state for transport, has recently put down parliamentary questions to establish the extent to which passengers can use smartcards and barcodes respectively to travel across the rail network.

In response to both questions, rail minister Andrew Jones again suggested, incorrectly, that the Government’s target was to give passengers either ‘a smart card or barcode option’, rather than both being available.

He stated: ‘The Government’s goal, set out last year in “Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail”, is to make smart ticketing available across almost all the network by the end of this year.

‘The rail industry is on track to deliver a smart card or barcode option that passengers can choose to use for singles, returns and seasons on journeys across almost all of the rail network by the end of the year.’

Mr McDonald (pictured, below) told Transport Network: ‘Despite £80m being pledged for the roll out of smart ticketing by ministers before the end of this year smartcards still don’t work across most train companies or networks.

‘With just over half of train operating companies providing or accepting barcode tickets, millions of passengers will rightly feel that this is yet another broken promise from this government.’


He added: ‘Meaningful reform of ticketing is impossible under the current private and fragmented rail model supported by the Conservatives. I can only conclude that transport secretary Chris Grayling has lost track of smart ticketing.’

Transport Network has also asked the DfT to provide an update in specific terms as to what the £80m has so far achieved, including how many TOCs operate smartcards that can be used across their whole networks and how many operate smartcards that are interoperable with other TOCs.

The DfT was also asked to disclose what proportion of the UK rail network is now covered by at least one form of paperless ticket or will be by the end of the year.

In response, the DfT repeated the incorrect statement given by Mr Jones. It did not respond to a request to provide a statistic to justify its claim to be ‘on track’, despite a promise from the then rail minister, Jo Johnson that ‘we are monitoring the industry’s progress closely’.

The RDG told Transport Network in early December: ‘As of today, 15 train operating companies offer barcode tickets across their networks and will accept each other’s tickets for journeys that require interoperability.’

There are at least 23 TOCs, excluding Transport for London and Eurostar and depending on whether brands operated by the same firm are counted separately or as a single TOC.

When asked to name the 15 TOCs cited in its statement, an RDG spokesperson declined to do so and stated that ‘the Smart Ticketing programme is live and growing and as such the number of TOCs will change’.

Despite referring queries about the availability of smartcards to the DfT, the RDG claimed that: ‘We are rolling out smart ticketing on routes across Britain, with the vast majority of customers able to travel with their tickets on their phone and on smart cards by the end of this year.’

The RDG declined to stated on what statistical basis this numerical assertion was based but said it was working to gather statistics and plans to publicly announce them ‘in about a month’.


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