Planning for and implementing a smartcard system for your business doesn’t come easily or cheaply (and here we’re talking about cash-paying customers rather than “simply” for free travellers). It’s somewhat akin to the major project that saw the widespread introduction of electronic ticket machines from the late 1980s.
There is a difference, though. If ETMs went wrong, it risked your revenue. That was bad enough. But if smartcard technology goes belly up, not only is your revenue down but customers who’ve pre-loaded payments will probably think twice about using the bus ever again. You lose face, completely, so it risks your reputation as well as your revenue.
Go Ahead’s The Key keeps on rolling... with another major rollout today. How may landmarks from how many areas can you recognise? I’m sure I see something from the Berlin landscape...Fortunately, there are generally few significant problems with the introduction of smartcard technology, these days. The February 2012 Wilts & Dorset Salisbury & Bluestar The Key launch went OK. Oxford Bus Company’s installation of Go Ahead’s The Key from October 2010 was the one major smartcard system that went awry at the beginning, thanks in the main to a larger than anticipated card failure rate. This in spite of the backing of one of the Big Five. It proves that no matter the investment, the planning and the consultants, you can never be totally sure.
With the risks come rewards. It’s two years since (Transdev) Yellow Buses introduced its Glo smartcard. It proved popular right from the start. The number of smart transactions has seen a 70 per cent year-on-year increase. No more purchases of throw away paper Yellow Cards that needed to be sucked into then spat out of a reader (and were rejected if bent, buckled, been in the washing machine or the reader was having a bad day).
Yellow Buses says that using its smartcards means quicker boarding times. They’re right, of course, but there’s not yet the critical mass available to save on PVR. Glo accounts for about 15 per cent of travel. But imagine the prospect. The P.T.E.G. believes that when (if?) *all* journeys are cashless then there’d be a three per cent reduction in operating costs owing to reduced boarding and a four per cent increase in demand. This eventually *has* to translate into PVR savings and the reality isn’t too far away. The transport minister wants “most” journeys to be cashless by 2014.
At some point, then, faster boarding could actually result in fewer vehicles. If you add up all the odd seconds saved, it’s inevitable. And if you manage that on several corridors, the project pays for itself, in spite of those consultants and those planning headaches.
Is this pie-in-the-sky? It won’t work on low frequency routes, of course, but on busier ones, there’s a prospect. With W&D introducing it’s The Key product to the critical south Dorset network from today, Yellow Buses will lose its Glo advantage, though it has a two-year head start. The one corridor where it’s conceivable to make PVR savings—eventually—is the More M1 & M2 services. A round trip time of over 120 minutes and 16 buses an hour could, might, reap the benefit. Competing as it does with Yellow Buses, it’s the only corridor on which W&D will have an e-purse facility available (the others offer seasons—with questionable passenger time savings).
For now, though, W&D needs to get through the initial few weeks. Give thanks for the support of a large group. And, meanwhile, we must now all plan post-ITSO for contactless debit cards.