FirstGroup announces £27m investment in groundbreaking bus ticket technology

3 September 2011  •  Source: FirstGroup

FirstGroup, the UK’s largest bus and rail operator, today revealed it is to invest £27m in revolutionary new ticketing technology for its 5,000 strong bus fleet in England, outside London.

The company intends to be the first bus operator outside London to offer customers ‘touch in touch out’ contactless payment. The new ticket machines, designed to read contactless debit or credit cards, in addition to ITSO smartcards such as concessionary bus passes, will be introduced to buses from the autumn and will initially allow customers with an ITSO smartcard to touch in. Contactless bank cards will be accepted across England from late 2012.

First’s new ticketing system will act much like London’s Oyster Card; customers will simply ‘touch in’ and ‘touch out’ using their debit or credit card, taking less than a second, and avoiding the need to carry the correct change. The system will also allow FirstGroup to offer a range of tickets including capping the daily fare. But unlike Oyster customers won’t need to carry an additional card or worry about pre-payment or topping up. Customers using the contactless cards will simply see the cost of the fare deducted from their bank or credit card balance.

With the continuing rapid advancement of mobile phone technology, FirstGroup has also ensured that its new system has the capability to accept payment via mobile phone.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker MP, welcomed the news: “I want to see smart ticketing rolled out across public transport in England as quickly as possible and this announcement from FirstGroup is a positive step towards achieving that.” The news will be also welcomed by Local Authorities as a key part of their plans to roll out smart ticketing.

Today’s announcement follows FirstGroup’s recent new bus order, a £160m investment in nearly 1,000 buses from manufacturers in Ballymena and Falkirk – one of the largest orders the industry has ever seen.

Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of FirstGroup’s UK Bus division, said: “Considerable investment in our buses continues. This is a groundbreaking announcement for the bus industry and good news for our customers.

“The public transport industry will increasingly rely on new technology such as contactless bank cards and mobile phones to both retain and attract customers. It’s an exciting prospect and I’m delighted that FirstGroup is at the forefront and setting new standards in the bus industry.

“This announcement further demonstrates our commitment to grow the company. Key to our growth strategy is convincing more people that the bus is an easy, convenient and cost effective travel option.

“We strongly believe that simplifying bus travel and introducing a maximum capped daily fare will strongly support our passenger growth plans. In particular, we think it will encourage car users to make the modal shift to bus especially given the continuing high costs of fuel.”

First will invest £27million in total on its new ticketing system. The £18m contract to supply ticket machines has been won by Swindon-based Almex.

Peter Aylward, General Manager of Almex, said: “This is a substantial commitment by FirstGroup and Almex is proud to have been confirmed as a strategic partner. Once again FirstGroup has demonstrated its willingness to embrace technological advancement by selecting the new Optima BL with integrated dual-reader (ITSO/EMV); the first of its kind in Europe. Almex has a strong heritage of technical innovation but we have always aimed at applying appropriate technology to deliver real value to FirstGroup’s customers; our new system is no exception to this.

“A project on this scale allows us to strengthen our UK team and further confirms our leading position in the UK market.”

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker MP, added: “I welcome First using smart technology to improve the customer experience of bus travel. This announcement means that ITSO tickets, such as the 10m concessionary bus passes in circulation, will be read smartly on First’s buses. It also means that passengers will have more choice in how they pay for travel on First buses. I will be personally taking a keen interest in how this makes bus travel more attractive. I also know that First will co-operate in the development and use of smart multi-operator products, to deliver seamless, better value public transport.”

FirstGroup’s UK Bus division carries approximately 2.5 million customers a day in more than 40 major towns and cities. The new ticketing technology will be implemented to all of First’s services in England, including Manchester, Bolton, Oldham, Wigan, Stoke, Northampton, Leeds, York, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Leicester, Portsmouth, Southampton, Plymouth, Reading, Bristol, Ipswich and Norwich.

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