We have been working in partnership with public transport operators a number of years to deliver smart integrated ticketing, to enable simple and seamless travel across different modes and services in the West Midlands. Smart technology, using the ITSO interoperability standard, has been in use in the West Midlands on bus since 2009, on the Midland Metro since 2014 and at gated rail stations since 2016.

The initial programme and Concessions

Following legislation from the Department for Transport (DfT) that all elderly persons and eligible disabled people would be entitled to free off peak bus travel (between 0930 and 2330 on a weekday and any time weekends or Bank Holidays) across England from 1 April 2008. Eligibility for the free concession was via a new national smartcard required to meet ITSO standard.

A project was put in place to deliver ITSO capability to all buses in the West Midlands, back office systems to support the roll out of smart concessionary cards (more than 400,000 initially). There are now 537,000 smart concessionary card holders in the West Midlands making 75 million journeys a year. In addition to free bus travel in England in the West Midlands includes free rail and Metro travel.

In support we established a managed service for bus operators which takes the complexities of smart ticketing away from them. Levels of bus operator satisfaction have been found to be very high. This allowed all small operators to not only participate in concessionary travel but provided a platform for multi-operator smart ticketing, where now some products are only available smart.

Our commercial smartcard - Swift

Swift is the brand of our commercial smartcard which we have used to build our smart ticketing systems; it was chosen to not be specific to any organisation or geographic region meaning that Swift can operate outside the West Midlands. Swift can easily co-exist with other brands which this allows public transport operators to promote their services whilst ensuring that passengers know the card in their hand will work on any bus, tram or train in the West Midlands.

Swift Pay As You Go

Swift, was introduced in October 2012 with a smart ITSO STR wallet known as Swift Pay As You Go. We now have a comprehensive Pay As You Go scheme accepted on virtually all buses and the Metro within the West Midlands, including largest operator National Express.

With Pay As You Go passengers no longer need to have the exact change before they travel, the card can be shared with friends and family and virtually all operators offer a discount compared to the equivalent cash fare, meaning paying for travel is now cheaper and more convenient. We have an Auto Top-Up function to ensure credit never runs out. Swift Card is simply linked to a bank card so when credit drops below £10 credit is automatically added back to your card and you are billed later.

Pay As You Go created a step change in the use of smartcards. When asked customers said:

  • Buying and topping-up online was popular, along with being able to share the card with the whole family many increasing their daily travel as a result.
  • They liked auto top-up seeing the card as a convenient way to travel and no longer needing to worry about having the right change.
  • Early research showed that users travel more on a daily basis as a result and with discounting now available through Swift customers should remain happy.

Smart Retail

Swift offers an on-line retail solution where you can register and top-up 24/7. This includes the ability to transfer purchases from an Android NFC device directly onto a Swift card using the Swift App, so you can now buy a product whilst waiting for a bus, transfer it to your Swift Card and use it instantly. If you don’t have Android NFC device there are 100 Swift Collectors located around the region which allows customers to load their purchases made online to their card. We were the first ITSO scheme to use this solution in this way and it has proved extremely popular with customers, with almost half of all purchases on Swift made this way.

In addition there is also a wide-ranging on-street retail solution including 250 convenience stores through Payzone (expected to exceed over 1,000 locations in 2017) as well as eight Travel Information Centres.

Swift Season Tickets

As well as Pay As You Go there is a broad range of multi-operator, multi-modal season tickets available. For all bus and tram multi-operator tickets we are completing migration of paper tickets to smartcard. We are also encouraging operators to convert their own ticketing to Swift. We have what we believe is the country’s first direct debit bus-rail-metro ITSO smart ticket. This requires no paper counterpart, allowing customers to travel freely through the rail gates at West Midlands stations and on any bus or tram.

New Tickets only on Swift

New area season tickets have been introduced offering significant savings for people travelling on multi-bus operator services within Coventry or the Black Country - the first to be exclusively available on Swift only.

In partnership with National Express West Midlands we have delivered a 'carnet' ticket giving 5, 10 or 15 days of travel for use on their services. This will be followed by a multi-bus operator product. They can be used anytime to fit in with irregular travel patterns – tickets are 20p cheaper (per ticket) than the amount you would pay if buying with cash on the bus.

Converting to smart from paper and cash

The initial strategy has been to move paper-based season ticketing onto smart, and we also introduced products only available on smart. However for those who use cash we wanted to convert them to Pay As You Go. Therefore alongside standard ways to promote smart products such as social media and outdoor we took the approach to put products into the hands of customers with credit already loaded on the card, effectively free travel using smartcards. Through this we were able to accurately track how successful this promotion was. We found that of all the cards issued as part of the promotion 80% were used on bus with over 10% continuing to be used after the free travel has run out, being regularly topped up by customers.

New Core Systems & Smartcard Framework

We had set an ambitious target to further develop smarter mobility, journey planning and integrated ticketless travel across the conurbation, in line with ongoing Smart Cities work. To achieve this a procurement programme was set up to deliver:

  • Improved customer experience by providing a wide range of easy to use and accessible retail channels and self service facilities offering multi-modal smart ticketing.
  • Customer insight, helping us to know our customers better through a single view of the customer, high levels of automation and streamlined back office processes.
  • Commercial opportunity for developing innovative technology and with partners

We awarded a framework for up to 10 years, recognising the investment and effort required to set up these systems and to develop a partnership way of working with a supplier who would participate in our ongoing innovation of smart ticketing.

We have frameworks that offer improved smartcard services to customers, efficiency through self-service, and reduced operational costs. Each framework is:

  • Offered through a single supplier who may be directly appointed,
  • Is open to any public sector or private organisation and
  • Runs for up to 10 years

Take Up and Next Moves

The challenge to balance between delivering the next initiative for the customer or commercial transport operator whilst ensuring a robust and fit for purpose smart eco-system which, in a, deregulated bus and franchised rail environment, is a real challenge. We believe we have achieved continued innovation and product delivery whilst making fundamental changes and future-proofing our core infrastructure.

We anticipate significant growth for bus and the Midland Metro as passengers find using a smartcard secure and convenient. Having successfully implemented ITSO smartcards for direct debit customers on rail and with smart products working seamlessly across all modes we aim to roll out more products on Swift.

By the end of 2016 all adult bus season tickets will be smart. We will continue to introduce products on the rail network and work with partners from other regions as we see Midlands Connect develop. A big push will be to use contactless bank cards and we are investigating as to how quickly it can be introduced, building on the work we were involved in with the UK Cards Association and DfT in setting a standard for use of contactless in a transit environment.