Transport secretary Grant Shapps has switched the focus of funding for contactless ticketing from the South East to the North, despite a Conservative manifesto pledge.
Grant Shapps revealed that the £360m announced in the budget to modernise rail ticketing and retail systems will be spent on making ‘contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing’ available at more than 700 stations ‘outside London and the South East’.
The move comes despite a Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘extend contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing to almost 200 more stations in the South East’ but ahead of the expected announcement that the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds will be scrapped and Northern Powerhouse Rail reduced to an upgrade of existing transpennine links.
Mr Shapps admitted that passengers in the North and Midlands ‘have waited far too long’ for the type of flexible rail ticketing seen in London as he prioritised the North for the roll-out of contactless technology.
Leeds City station
Following the Budget announcement of £360m, some industry figures had expected a significant part of the cash to be spent delivering the manifesto commitment regarding the South East.
In 2019 the DfT published a consultation paper on extending pay-as-you-go ticketing (PAYG) across south east England, which floated ‘a joined-up PAYG travel area that focuses on travel to, from and around London by rail’.
In August of this year, officials launched a market engagement exercise in relation to ‘plans for the expansion of PAYG rail ticketing in the South East of England’.
However, the Department for Transport (DfT) said on Wednesday that over the next three years, the Government will roll out contactless PAYG ticketing across the commuter networks of the Midlands and North – introducing London-style price caps and greater integration with local bus and tram networks.
Officials said the cash would benefit 400 stations across the North but did not give a specific figure for the Midlands, which suggests that a significant proportion of the remaining stations would be elsewhere.
The Department for Transport told Transport Network that the announcement was in addition to approximately 250 more stations in the South-East.
Mr Shapps said: ‘Passengers across the North and Midlands have waited far too long to see the same fast, easy and convenient ticketing as those in London. We’re determined to put that right.
‘Today’s investment is just the first phase of our efforts to overhaul our rail network, focused on improving journeys for passengers right across the country.’
Officials said that ‘once the full programme is delivered, cities across the North of England will have access to a contactless ticketing scheme’.
Asked whether fare caps would be extended to other modes of transport – as happens in London – the DfT told Transport Network that the announcement covers delivering contactless ticketing on rail to begin with.
Ministers are considering how they can support local transport authorities to work with bus operators and other transport providers in developing or expanding multi-modal ticketing schemes.
As Transport Network has reported, ministers have repeatedly failed to deliver on pledges to roll out flexible and smart ticketing for rail passengers and other public transport users.
In February, the Government cut funding for Transport for the North’s Integrated and Smart Travel (IST) programme, which was seen as the pathfinder for delivering flexible ticketing outside London.