UK bus giant opts for contactless fares

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Contactless paymentThe UK's largest bus operator is to spend £27m installing a contactless payment system in its 5,000 vehicles outside London. First Group's move means passengers will be able to pay with debit or credit cards or mobile phones.

The new system will be much like the Oyster card system that has been in place in London since 2003. First Group says the system will be fully in place by 2012, affecting 2.5m commuters on 40 towns and cities. The move will make it the first firm to offer 'touch in, touch out' payment outside London.

The cards will meet the ITSO requirements which aim to establish a system enabling contactless ticketing to be used throughout the country. The move comes as Transport for London discusses plans to integrate ITSO-compatible cards issued by operators such as First Group and Stagecoach.

Mobile phones

Giles Fearnley, MD of the firm's UK bus divisions, said: "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."

First Group's ticket machines will be supplied by Swindon-based Almex, which is part of the Hoeft & Wessel group. The contract is worth £18m. General manager Peter Aylward said: "This is a substantial commitment by FirstGroup. A project on this scale allows us to strengthen our UK team and further confirms our leading position in the UK market."

Manufacturing boost

This news comes after First Group confirmed a £160m order for new buses from manufacturers in Ballymena and Falkirk – one of the largest the industry has seen and a fillip for UK manufacturing in the current gloom.

But passengers will be hoping the kind of glitches that have dogged the Oyster system in London, with users being charged incorrectly, don't hit them. So-called 'smart' ticketing systems depend on users knowing how to use them correctly – and on companies making use as easy as possible.

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