MSP threatens new laws to speed up smartcards for buses

Trying to find the right change could become a thing of the past on the buses. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Trying to find the right change could become a thing of the past on the buses. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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An end to fumbling for the right change for the bus could come sooner after the transport minister fired a “warning shot” to speed up the introduction of cashless smartcards.

Derek Mackay threatened to bring in new laws to force operators to offer electronic payments.

The minister wants far faster progress on smartcards, that can be used on buses, trains and ferries, to make such travel more attractive. However, they were planned as part of Scotland’s national transport strategy ten years ago.

Mr Mackay said some bus operators were dragging their feet despite firm plans for smartcards on ScotRail and CalMac over the next few years. He said: “My expectation is that it would be quicker. We should now be making rapid progress.

“Connecting all bus operators will be the next big step.

“My warning shot is this - it is a clear vision of the Scottish Government. If we do not get there through partnership, we will legislate.”

This would be through the technology being made a condition of grant payments.

Some Scottish operators have smartcards, but mainly for season tickets rather than pay-as-you-go travel.

An exception is Lothian Buses, Edinburgh’s main operator, whose citysmart card costs £30. It is pre-loaded with 20 single tickets and can be topped up.

First Bus, the main operator in Glasgow and Aberdeen, has no smartcard and its ticket app for mobile phones cannot be used for single journeys.

Stagecoach does not have pay-as-you-go smartcards in Scotland but plans to launch a phone app this year.

Paul White, of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents bus operators, said they were “absolutely committed” to expanding smart ticketing.

He said: “Smart, multi-operator bus ticketing schemes will be introduced across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee over the next two years, building on the many smart ticketing initiatives already in place.

“These schemes will form the building blocks of the nationwide, integrated smart ticketing.” Nigel Serafini, head of commercial for Lothian Buses: “We have an extensive range of flexible ticket options because there are many different types of passenger, from daily commuters to weekend visitors.

“Some of them are very tech-savvy and enjoy the benefits of being able to pre-load either a smartcard or our ticket app using a credit or debit card, while others prefer paying with cash on the day.

“As long as this is the case, we’ll continue to provide a variety of ways for customers to pay for travel across bus and trams.”

A First Bus spokeswoman said: “We introduced m-ticketing in 2014 enabling our customers to use their mobile phones as bus tickets.

“A range of tickets are available in Scotland including seven-day, 28-day, multi-journey tickets and annual season tickets.”

ScotRail said its smartcards will be able to be used for all tickets on all routes by 2019, starting with the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line this year.

It introduced smartcards for season tickets on the route six years ago, which have since been extended to five other Central Belt routes.

A spokesman said: “Our long-term vision is integrated smart ticketing that allows customers to travel across all public transport modes using the same smartcard, which will vastly improve door-to-door journeys.”

The Glasgow Subway introduced smartcards in 2013, which now account for more than 40 per cent of journeys.