Trailblazing smartcard scheme on Norwich buses delayed by hitches

Tracy Jessop, assistant director of travel and transport at Norfolk County Council.

Tracy Jessop, assistant director of travel and transport at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Archant Norfolk 2011

The introduction of a much-heralded smartcard system on Norwich buses, which government ministers hailed as blazing a trail for the rest of the country, has been delayed because of technical hitches.

The government announced last year that Norfolk would pilot the introduction of the technology - similar to London's Oyster cards - on some 700 vehicles.

Norfolk County Council was given £2.6m to improve bus travel and replacing paper tickets with smartcards forms one of the key planks of the scheme.

Under the new system, passengers would own a card which they could top up with credit. They would then simply swipe it against a reader when getting on a bus.

Norwich's Park and Ride buses were supposed to be the first vehicles to introduce the smartcard scheme, with the scheme originally earmarked to be launched in November last year.

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But technical issues have led to a delay in getting the scheme off the ground and the cards are now unlikely to be introduced on Park and Ride services until the summer.

The county council said 'various inconsistencies' had been unearthed during testing of the software and hardware which will be needed for the smartcards to work.

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Council bosses said they would not want to launch the smartcards until they were '100pc confident that it works and customers have a good experience'.

Tracy Jessop, assistant director of travel and transport at Norfolk County Council, said: 'This pilot project has the potential to benefit everyone in Norfolk who uses all types of public transport - on local buses, Park and Ride, community transport and in time, rail.

'We are breaking new ground and overcoming significant technical barriers in the industry to make it easier for passengers to use public transport.

'Our system will be used across different modes of transport and with different transport operators, making an economic impact for our citizens and local businesses.

'This is a complex technical project and there have been delays outside of our control. The most important thing is to make sure the Norfolk smartcard works well from day one, so our customers have confidence in it and we can maximise the opportunity we have to improve public transport across Norfolk.

'We are in a rigorous testing phase and expect to be able to confirm a launch date very soon.'

Price hikes for the Park and Ride services were agreed last summer, but the council has said those increases will not come into effect until the smartcards are up and running.

The council said, although the Park and Ride smart ticketing rollout has been delayed, the introduction of smart ticketing equipment to bus operators who provide local bus services is 'progressing well'.

They said they hope to have equipped operators by Easter and said the English National Concessionary Ticket Scheme, which is a smartcard was already being used on Sanders Coaches and West Norfolk Community Transport.

And council bosses stressed the government cash for the scheme was not at risk because of the delay. A council spokesman said: 'This is a fully funded project and the Department for Transport are fully engaged and very supportive, appreciating that we are solving significant issues to inform smart ticketing for the whole of England.'

• What do you think? Write, including full contact to details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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