Friday, 20 November 2015

Smart or a bit Thick in Manchester?

Exciting News? - Perhaps Not! 
"Great News", we are told, in a recent joint press release:-

Millions of bus passengers in Greater Manchester will benefit from cheaper fares from today with the introduction of a new smart ticketing scheme that works across bus companies and the region. The ground-breaking scheme is one of the largest in the UK outside London and is the result of collaboration between more than 30 bus operators through industry body Greater Manchester Travelcards Ltd (GMTL), the organisation behind the System One brand, in partnership with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).
So off fbb goes to the System One web site where ...
... we can find out about Travelcards but no mention of a Smart card (or even a stupid one).

From today, customers can purchase great value multi-‐operator travel, which is stored on a smart card and can be used on buses across Greater Manchester. Fares will be cut by an average of 10% for the new electronic products compared to the equivalent existing printed products, saving customers up to £5 a week. Customers can buy adult and junior 1 day, 7 day and 28 day products, providing unlimited bus travel across the Greater Manchester area.

Hang on in there. If you actually search for a Travelcard, say for an adult one day "rover", a significant list of options comes up.
But added to this list is the "Smart" version at a discount.

The new product range, branded "get me there", is an extension of the equivalent existing printed System One multi-‐operator products
So all these products can now be loaded on a Smart Card saving appropriate sums of money?

Erm no! Lets go the the neatly named "get me there" web site.
It would appear from the site that the ticket is limited.
But there is very little concrete information.
And the picture of a typical bus user is a bit scary!
Hermaphrodite goths will be spotted in their droves travelling round Manchester on the buses. 

Be that as it may, it would appear, after lots of detailed on-line research, that the Manchester Smart card only stores basic adult and junior 1 day, 7 day and 28 day products and nothing else. It is nothing more than an electronic version of the previously available cardboard or paper Travelcard for 1, 7 or 28 days, adult or child with a discount. Presumably the discount is to encourage you to use the new plastic but it is hard to see how it is such good news when you can do exactly that same with an existing Travelcard.

Customers will be able to load the new products onto widely available smart cards issued by bus operators, including StagecoachSmart or by TfGM ...

Why would they want to pay twice? Perhaps it just means using the plastic to store the new rediuced multi-operator fare.

... including igo passes for young people other concessionary passes, and a "get me there" smart card. Passengers then touch in at smart readers when they board the bus to validate their travel.

An "identity" card allowing reduced price travel for young people.

But the new "wunderkind" card is very limited. It can't be used on the trams; it can't be used on the trains and Adult plus one (Child) or Group tickets are not available or discounted. It can't be loaded on-line or, it seems, on the buses for longer periods. Extensions to the tticket types available is promised "for the future".


So whatever happened to the plan to launch a Manchester version of London's Oyster (with which, incidentally, it is not compatible!)

The local press summarises the débacle.

The stop-gap solutions come after this newspaper. revealed in September that Greater Manchester’s ‘Oyster Card’ had stalled after considerable delays. Contractor ATOS had failed to roll out the scheme by this summer as planned. As a result, Transport for Greater Manchester ditched the firm.

The aim is still to create a system where one smartcard can be used across buses, trains and trams - but a new timeline has to be figured out.

So and over-hyped launch for something that isn't very smart and isn't very new.

Meanwhile, all over Europe, you can by day tickets valid on bus, tram, train and metro for just one fixed price.

So why not here in the UK? In Manchester, even?

Any answers, Transport for Greater Manchester?
For the record, TfGM list ALL the "rover" options - note particularly the peak availability column (Yes or No). Weekly and Monthly options are likewise complex.

Bus day tickets:-

The list has yet to be updated with the "get you there" (or it is "getyouthere") card at a fiver. No rush folks!

The First and Stagecoach day tickets are difficult (impossible?) to find on the company web sites. Stagecoach Manchester only offered weekly (and longer) "Megariders" whilst First's new site could only offer a £3.70 PlusBus which has to be bought with a train ticket.

Rail day tickets:-
Tram day tickets:-
Mixture day tickets:-

Key question. Is this really the best way to encourage public transport use in our big cities?
There is no need to even think of answering fbb's rhetorical question. What the public needs is one simple day ticket, weekly ticket etc. valid on everything and priced attractively. More avian porkers!

 Next bus/train blog : Saturday 21st November 


  1. "So whatever happened to the plan to launch a Manchester version of London's Oyster (with which, incidentally, it is not compatible!)"

    Well, you see, there are two types of London Oyster Card - Pay-as-you-go and Travelcard season. Most northerners going to London as tourists are familiar with the former. The northern cities, as part of the devolution the politicians are keen to deliver, are getting the latter. When they say 'Oyster' they simply mean smart card.

    Over in Sheffield you have covered the new bus network launched by the 'Sheffield Bus Partnership' as part of the same Northern devolution programme and likewise 'Oyster Style Cards' are promised. Very soon nearly all the 'Travelmaster' all operator range of tickets will be going Smart...

  2. Also they don't actually mean Oyster as Oyster isn't as comprehensive as people seem to think it is. It isn't mutli-operator, in the sense that it isn't valid on all buses that serve Greater London only on TfL contracted services (who use TfL supplied machines & TfL retain all revenue) so it is a TfL only product on buses. Non-TfL commercial services (largely cross-boundary routes) are deliberately excluded from most TfL tickets which has destroyed much of the cross boundary network from places like Surrey as the local traffic in London helped keep the service going. It is also only just going multi-modal onto mainline train services, I don't think they have yet got their finger out to get it on all journeys within Greater London on all mainline rail routes.

    Another note on the Get Me There smartcard is that there may be issues over acceptance away from Arriva, First & Stagecoach as GM had barely started the process of procuring & supplying smartcard machines to the smaller operators and sorting out ensuring that cross boarder operators have equipment to accept. I think holders of a smartcard effectively use them as a flash card on operators who don't currently have machines capable of reading them. This launch all seemed to come a bit out of the blue and almost appears to have occurred so the PTE can say they have smartcards in service before a specific date. The fact that they have designed it so that it can be loaded onto any existing smartcard in circulation (so meaning customers don't have to get a new card to upgrade the product & so have multiple cards in their possession) is a positive step and getting closer to this government obsession of everyone having a smartcard which can be used anywhere in the country by loading whichever product is appropriate as they arrive at the location. I'm not sure how many people, aside from bus enthusiasts, actually would want such national coverage but you can see people wanting products for two different areas available (where they live & where they work or two neighbouring zones) so if we can get that level of offering working widely it can only be seen as positive.

    1. Abellio Surrey do Oyster match on their services within TfL area that are non-TfL which struck me as a good, if not ideal, compromise.

  3. My concerns, perhaps ill-expressed in the blog above, is that converting paper "seasons" into plastic "seasons" via a not very smart card offers little real benefit to passengers. The big plus of London's Oyster is its "pay as you go" with a cap at the level of a one day Travelcard. Ordinary fares are also discounted. The London system is flawed because of the politicians insistence that The Underground must be separately "logged" adding ludicrous complexity where it is not necessary.
    The Manchester scheme, the proposed Sheffield Scheme and current operator Smartcards do not offer this flexibility.

  4. Lisbon in Portugal manages to do a multi-operator Oyster-type PAYG card (and it's not even plastic but cardboard, presumably with a chip in it):


    I used this on a visit back on April and it worked well. There are also "Season ticket" options although - to be fair - these uses different cards.

  5. What London has shown, perhaps with a different demographic, is that what many want is to be able to use their bank card with a guarantee that they will always have the best price.

  6. Indeed, London is now moving on from Oyster to Contactless Debit Cards for Pay-as-you-go customers!