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Government: Smart Ticketing Could Save Cash and Carbon

Electronic tickets could help cut costs and ease congestion but privacy campaigners have concerns about using IT to track passengers

Spurred by the success of the Oyster card in London and other projects in Nottingham and Cheshire, the Department for Transport has launched a consultation on the future of “smart ticketing” which could include using mobile phones for “contactless payments”.

In a statement released today, the government said that it has launched a consultation paper on the future of smart tickets with a full strategy planned for later this year. Citing success stories such as the Oyster card and the Nottingham Citycard, the Department for Transport said that it is getting behind the concept of smart tickets – including pre-pay credit on mobile phones.

“Experience has shown that smart ticketing can be a key part of offering a 21st century public transport system. And of course the easier it is to use public transport, the more people will do so, which is why I want to see a universal coverage of smart ticketing on all modes of public transport in England as quickly as possible,” said transport minister Sadiq Khan.

Khan added that cutting down the time it takes for passengers to board vehicles could reduce pollution from idling vehicles such as buses.

“We could see the end to waiting in line at ticket machines, while buses could spend half the amount of time sitting at the bus stop waiting for people to board and looking for the right change. In some cases, direct payments may even do away with the need for a ticket at all,” said Khan. “The technology and the interest is already out there and I want to see it used to not only help passengers but also reduce congestion, pollution, improve the local environment, and help local authorities plan more effective local transport systems.”

The Government said that it hopes that smart ticketing could build on the success of ‘Oyster’ smart cards now used for 78 percent of bus and tube journeys.

Other examples include the Nottingham Citycard – a contactless smart card issued free to all residents in Nottingham and is regularly used by 100,000 passengers. The Cheshire Travelcard is another smart ticketing system which can be used as a weekly or monthly travelcard, or as a prepay card which offers a 10 percent discount on cash fares, according to the Department for Transport.

But despite the potential of smart tickets to potentially reduce congestion, integrating mobile phones or smart-cards with travel has obvious privacy implications. Paper tickets can be bought anonymously with cash – whereas smartcards and mobile applications can be tracked.

Privacy advocates have already challenged the government’s ability to manage the database associated with national ID Cards. Civil liberties organisation Liberty, claims that support for the ID Card is waning amid concerns about how much information the government holds on citizens. The organisation cites the results of a Liberty-YouGov opinion poll released this week which it said reveled that 68 percent of those polled thought that the Government has not presented a strong enough case for the cards or register to justify their costs. As much as 60 percent of those polled said they would probably or definitely not volunteer for an ID card, Liberty said

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has also warned about the data protection and privacy issues higlighted by the development of Intelligent Transport systems – such as in-car GPS or sat-nav systems.

“Appropriate safeguards should be implemented by data controllers providing ITS services so that the use of location technologies is not intrusive from a privacy viewpoint,” the EDPS stated.