Could new train smartcard save you money?

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Train ticketPA/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The Department of Transport has announced an overhaul to the way that we pay for train travel, including the introduction of a smartcard, which could always ensure you pay the lowest possible amount for your ticket.

So what are the changes, and what will they mean for you?



Smarter

The idea is that you will either be able to scan a card a bit like London's Oyster card through the ticket booth (alternatively you can scan a barcode on your smartphone or print off your own ticket at home).

This offers two major benefits for commuters. First it will save us queuing at station ticket machines and booths. Second, it will automatically allocate the cheapest ticket for the route and time you have travelled, rather than relying on you to be an expert in the byzantine workings of the ticket system.


The government says it will also save on the cost of the tickets, but let's face it, that's less than a penny per trip so is hardly going to rock anyone's world.

Better for train companies

At the same time there will be bonuses for train companies. The smartcards will collect information on where and when people are travelling, so they can plan services more effectively. Plus they are confident it will help clamp down on fare dodgers, because smartcard barriers would be in place in every station, so that everyone pays their fair share.

They will also be able to cut staff in ticket offices, or close them altogether, because more people are buying their ticket remotely. Norman Baker, transport minister, said in an interview with the Metro newspaper: "We've got train companies knocking on our doors to get ticket offices closed so we need to put in place measures that work."

Of course, this didn't go down well with the union. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: "The Lib Dems within this rotten coalition Government have admitted that they are prepared to cave in to the train operators' demands to axe ticket offices in the name of profit and at the expense of passenger service and safety. They have given the green light to turning our railway stations into a de-staffed, criminals' paradise. Not only are the train companies being allowed to get away with fare increases of up to 11% in January, they are also now being given approval to smash up ticket offices in an act of pure corporate vandalism."

Concerns

And whether this strikes a chord with you or not, there remain concerns about what happens to those who fall through the cracks in the new system. There will be those who don't have a smartcard, smartphone or a printer, who are baffled by the new system and the barriers. There will also be those scuppered by everyday life, who lose their card, or who planned to scan a code on their phone but ran out of battery life before they reached the station.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, said in response to the closure of ticket offices:"Passengers tell us that when they go to a station, they value knowing that there will be staff on hand to help with enquiries and to provide a sense of security."

Before we start celebrating the benefits, we are going to need to see cast-iron solutions to what happens to people who fall foul of the system if there's no-one around to help.

Aside from the smart ticketing, there will also be changes that affect season tickets. More tiers will be introduced in order to ensure that those who get up early and travel before the rush hour pay less than those travelling at peak times.

The changes will start to come into effect next year in London and the South East. Over time the system is expected to be rolled out elsewhere.

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