Norfolk is to become the first rural county in the UK to enable the use of smart card technology across the entire bus fleet. Transport Minister Norman Baker last week announced approval of Norfolk County Council’s proposals for a demonstration project for the technology, to be rolled out to all bus operators in the county by 2015.
For passengers the smart card would replace an ordinary ticket and allow travel on vehicles that have smart ticket machines, with easy transfer between services. Customers will be able to buy and top up on-line, check the credit left on the card, or buy a card at outlets across the county.
For bus operators, the project would set up shared back-office support for the service, bringing the cost within the reach of even small companies.
The project, costing up to £2.5m, will be entirely paid for from the £15m the government set aside to support the national Managed Service initiative in March 2012.
Three year trial starting with the Norwich Park and Ride to to "understand the dynamics"
Norfolk was chosen for the pilot because it provides a mix of rural and urban journeys and has a range of operators. The pilot will last for three years but will be evaluated throughout so that the benefits can be understood and used nationally before the end of the trial.
Norwich Park and Ride will be one of the first services to use the new smart cards with a launch planned in early summer.
Norfolk County Council's Cabinet Member for Planning and Transportation, Graham Plant, said "This project has the potential to benefit everyone in Norfolk who uses public transport - from local bus, to Flexibus to community transport. It will help over 40 local businesses operating over 700 vehicles to move to the Smart cards. It will generate confidence in the technology, and with the Smart card being accepted by all operators, achieve a step change in service integration for passengers."
As well as the many public transport benefits, the council said the Smart card has the potential to become a 'citizen's card' to provide multiple services such as libraries, school meals and other services.
Transport Minister, Norman Baker said “Using a pilot project to understand the dynamics of rolling out smart ticketing equipment and introducing smart ticket products makes financial and operational sense. The pilot can help flush out some of the issues that get in the way of delivering better services for passengers. By doing so, we will aim to reduce the overall cost of going smart and take away some of the hassle associated with delivery.”
The pilot will produce a series of outputs including:
An evaluation of the benefits for passengers, local authorities and operators.
Frameworks to procure services and supplies which other local authorities could use.
Modular guidance for other local transport authorities to use.
A technical specification for smart equipment and support services suitable for use by smaller operators.