back to article Somerset buses bin paper tickets, sniff journey-logging chips

Somerset county council is to introduce smartcard electronic ticket reading machines for bus passengers with free passes issued by the authority. The implementation will cover people are eligible for the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), run by the Department for Transport in conjunction with local …

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FAIL

And thus bus travel gets

even more awkward for the casual user... If you want to speed up time to enter buses you bring back the conductor. Ever since driver only buses were introduced bus travel has been getting slower and slower and more and more hassle...

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Anonymous Coward

Yay for make-believe.

Experience over in the Netherlands has shown that the electronic version is a bit of a needless invasion of privacy since you need to "check-in" AND "check-out" and OF COURSE all that data "needs to be" logged and kept for years. A bit of chatting with drivers told me one of the annoyances of the system was that the "checking out" step does take a lot more time than just getting off the bus and that this difference is quite noticeable when it's busy.

So far, so good. The Somerset system looks not too expensive by contrast: Yon system also has cost in excess of 3.5mrd euros and still doesn't work smoothly. The cards aren't free but cost 7.50 euros for an empty card; you need to keep at least some four euros of credit* at all times so at 11.50 you have something you still can't actually use. No wonder then that apart from those who really had no choice (students and commuters), others, like casual users, people on day trips, and so on, very much are staying well away. This has caused a drop in passengers of some 20% in some areas.

We'll just have to see if this lot will fare any better. Starting with keeping the total cost of the whole project under, say, a million quid.

Contactless smart cards are wonderful technology for the vendors, but aren't actually all that good for the customer of all the forcibly smart-card-embraced systems. I do find it disturbing to see just how much focus on your actual customers is lacking in entire industries.

* Unless you also want to "activate" the thing so you can use it for train fares, then it's 20.

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wat

Currently, old people just wave their bus passes at the driver and stroll on through. This can only slow that down.

I'm actually convinced that the only reason bus passes exist is because somebody clever noticed how long it takes old ladies to pay cash for anything.

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Big Brother

Faster boarding?

Old people still wave their new passes at the driver. And the driver has to explain to EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM how to place it on the sensor.

I can't decide if this is terminal stupidity or a brilliantly orchestrated act of mass civil disobedience!

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FAIL

Fail

Not sure what happens where you live but I get a First bus in Somerset every day and a paper ticket is issued to every concessionary pass holder. As it happens, as I have a season ticket, I don't get one issued.

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Windows

Don't most authorities do this anyway?

Pass holders in Nottingham have had chipped cards for years. Only the casuals need exact change to get on. I believe That London also has something similar.

Hardly cutting edge stuff, is it?

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pig

Yup.

London, Oyster card.

And on the bus, at least here in London, you only check in, you don't have to check out again.

I quite like it, but that said it hasn't had a noticable impact on speed of boarding. In fact if anything it is now worse as when someone gets on without an oyster card it takes 5 minutes of the bus driver huffing and looking through their pockets for change before the bus can move. That's right, pockets. They have no cash float anymore it seems.

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"And on the bus, at least here in London, you only check in, you don't have to check out again."

That's because there's no price difference between a one stop hop and a terminus to terminus excursion. Elsewhere the bus companies expect to be paid according to distance travelled, so for smart ticketing to work you'd either need to tell the driver when boarding how much to debit from your card, or require people to touch-out when alighting.

"That's right, pockets. They have no cash float anymore it seems."

As the partner of a driver working out of a West London garage, I can confirm this much is true for our area of TfL-land at least. It wasn't so much of a problem when cash fares were still fairly popular, but with the push to get people onto Oyster it now means that the odd times when someone does want/need to pay cash can result in a fairly significant depletion of whatever float the driver has available.

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FAIL

Payment_Fail.com

Because the world needs another proprietary payment method.... and another card to add to your wallet..

Oyster, soon to be phased out. All other transit systems moving to accept contactless payments.

Money down the proverbial.

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Silver badge

Why, exactly, does the .gov need to know if I purchase a bus (train, plane) ticket?

One wonders if the "people (who) are eligible for the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme" actually grok the fact that they are being monitored by the authorities?

The government having access to the minutia detailing day-to-day movement of civilians is not exactly something that I support ... We are NOT criminals.

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But concessions are notoriously difficult for small bus companies to record and claim for, and this will help get them the fares they are entitled to. That's not a bad thing, surely?

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Anonymous Coward

Vell...

I recall step counters in busses that duly recorded how many people got on and off. And that was more than a score years ago. Now you could do more sophisticated things, perhaps even have the bus weigh itself, count heads with the ubiquitous cctvs in busses; combine the measurements, apply AI techniques, the whole shebang. Individual traveler tagging as this RFID thing effectively does (costing you your privacy while you get on the bus; you're just happy the wait is over) is actually quite unsophisticated and needlessly invasive by comparison.

On a larger note, personally I don't think the whole privatisation racket is all that useful. Speaking (again) about the Netherlands, the cheapest bidder gets the contract with the province. To do that they basically underbid, then halfway through say "ifn yer dun' pay us mo' monies, we go titsup and you got no bus service, so pay up guv" and payin' up the provinces invariably do.

The note you should take is less of the extortion racket (all bus companies do exactly that, otherwise they just don't get the concession) or that provinces sign fantastibad contracts and roll over at the slightest poke from bus companies, but moreso the simple observation that from the beginning and through and through the approach spells the death of the "free market" idea the whole privatisation rigamole was there to make everything better with in the first place: The traveler gets no choice, so there is no performance pressure, thus the free market drive isn't. Thus necessarily failing in what it set out to do.

As such, I think it's more useful to simply pay for the fares somehow, mandate that cash must be accepted, and/or if you insist on elektrickery whatnots at the very least provide a general electronic, _anonymous_ payment system for the bus fares. But as a council you could also buy up the whole bus company and provide flat-fee fares for everyone as a public service. It's _public_ transport, and it's probably time we remembered why we have it. It's more like the reason councils support roads rather than why individuals own cars.

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Windows

Good Lord!!

In Finland we've had this for years! Contactless, pre-paid RFID-style cards that I don't have to even take out of my wallet! You can even get gloves that have a pocket on the back for the card, so - 'back-of-my-hand' to cash...

It CAN be topped up on the bus (€50 for a month's ulimited travel in the city area), but most folks top it up when they go shopping in the city.

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Busses will be quicker to board! But, not usable by visitors, tourists or casual users that might feel like taking the bus instead of using their car. Oh and big brother will no where everyone has been.

At a time when the country is supposed to be trying to save money would this not be better spent elsewhere? Fixing roads maybe?

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I wonder if this is the same sort of system we've had in Edinburgh for the last decade.

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Anonymous Coward

Pretty much, but contactless so it doesn't take 15 seconds for each and every bloody passenger to position their card just-so on the reader

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Happy

I remember when they introduced new smart ticket machines on buses in Cambridge. The drivers had to log on and off the machines.

Unfortunately, the drivers often forgot to logoff before leaving. The next driver was unable to logon, and the bus was stranded.

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Hopefully this will stop the abuse driver take.

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err?

Schemes like this will only work where there is a large uptake of both users and facilities. Oyster is a pain but works also in other countries cards such as the HK octopus works fine (and good for NFC transactions in shops) but a propriety card in an isolated county this is a bad idea in the scheme of things.

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Brilliant!

One of our local bus companies reckons 80% of their business is concessions, and this must make it easier to get paid.

On the down side My entitlement to a free pass was postponed by SKDC. It's now a year after the new date and I am still passless...

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"journeys will be logged electronically."

And you might ask "Why?" Probably because when central govt has a *choice* of building a system to do a job and one which collects *huge* amounts of personal data (it could be summarized but it's better to have the individual persons journey details just-in-case it needs to be analyzed at that level in the future. No idea when or what that would be of course)

Note the *implication* of this is a *national* buss pass, which (as always) in *theory* sounds like a great idea.

It's one of those ideas that "simple" ideas ("Why can't I use my GMPTE/WMPT/London Underground card *everywhere*") that is actually a PITA to implement.

Bit like the idea of a national IT system for law courts.

Except this one (slowly) seems to be *working*.

Thumbs up for idea, thumbs down for implementation.

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Unhappy

Tracking usage

Can't use a single ticket nationwide as we'd soon realise how much less they pay for public transport on London.

I've heard they're going to limit concessionary passes to X number of journeys or X days per week. How long until there's a black market in passes, now they're cracking down on disability parking tickets ?

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So quick, the bus runs early ...

... has to wait at a bus stop to 'lose time' and get back onto the time table achedule.

If there's anything worse than a last bus, it's one that runs early. It happens all the time during the school holidays, when the passenger numbers drop by 30%.

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WTF?

Well done Somerset

You've caught up with the rest of the country. I've got one of these passes due to a disability that prevents me from holding a driving license, I've also used in on bus services in quite a few areas and buses have been doing this for some time now.

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Pirate

What's the problem?

Yay, a system that is vilified by half of the country for being past it's sell by date and also worries the black helicopter merchants! Brilliant! The reasons for using the pass to board AND disembark must be obvious, it's so they can see how many people (not necessarily which people) use bus stops more regularly. That way companies can plan how many buses are needed on given routes, and whether they can use smaller buses at certain times of day. I can't see it improving boarding times, but I can see it contributing to a better run sevice, if it's used properly

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Anonymous Coward

The Lincoln Experience...

This system has recently been introduced in Lincoln.

The theory: The passholder gets on the bus, having thaken their pass out of its holder, shows it to the driver (so he can validate the photo), then places it on top of the reader and states their destination, the driver issues the ticket and the passholder then takes their ticket and pass and moves down the bus to return the pass to its holder.

What actually happens: The passholder gets on the bus, tries to wave their purse over the reader, gives up and takes the pass out of their purse and slaps it down on top of the reader. The driver, at this point realising that it's already taken longer than the previous method, doesn't bother to validate the photo. The passholder mumbles something that could be a destination, the driver issues a ticket, the passholder then waits to be handed the ticket, drops their pass, picks it up again, and stands in the doorway fumbling until the have the pass and ticket back in their purse.

This has done nothing to reduce fraud, nothing to improve journey times, and the data gathered is inaccurate because it'll only record where the passholder got on and where they said they were going to get off.

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Trent Barton's being doing it for ages...

...and it works a treat.

The buses still have normal ticket machines and can take cash if necessary. The combined time for scanning on and off is less then it takes to buy a ticket.

If you forget to scan off then they assume you're travelling to the end of the line. Don't want to pay the extra? Don't forget to scan off then.

The only pain is when you forget to top up online the night before, though it has a healthy sized "emergency credit" if you get stuck.

The system can work, it just depends on who is handling it. I bet if Arriva had tried it then it would have been fucked up - mostly because Arriva fucks everything up that it touches...

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Bronze badge

"Busses will be quicker to board! But, not usable by visitors, tourists or casual users that might feel like taking the bus instead of using their car. Oh and big brother will no where everyone has been."

I have contactless passes for buses in 3 different cities, only one of which I live in and use buses regularly.

The passes in the other two (and my home city) were cheap and easy to obtain for casual use, and in no case was I asked for any personal details when getting the pass - give us some money, here's your pass, enjoy. Big brother knows where the passes go, they have no idea who is using the pass.

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Anonymous Coward

Aberdeen has done this for years

you can get a prepaid card that deducts the fare or an unlimited pass. unfortunately the former seems to be the transport industrys best kept secret, probably because they lose out on the exact change only scheme.

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Thumb Up

Opportunities for fun

I liked the story about the students who dissected their Oyster Card and placed the chip on the end of a toy magic wand. They could literally open the gates to get on the Tube with a wave of the wand.

Oxford finally cottoned on to the benefits of a system like this over the summer and, luckily, they only care about where we get on. But best of all you no longer need to wait for the right bus company's bus to come past: pretty much all of them will take the card.

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Joke

Note this system *currently* applies to people over 60.

Using CodgerTrac(TM) on your mobile you'll know when registered CD's are out and about (and more importantly if they're likely to drop in on you).

Plan your surprise visits with confidence knowing they won't have gone off somewhere. Be warned of impending inlaw arrivals, allowing the chance of a quick tidy up and hiding any embarrassing items you wouldn't want them to see.

Of course there will be down sides as clueful burglars use hacked versions to find out where they are in a block or street and do a block burglary when they're off to the local day care centre/church/bowling green

As Stephen Hawking might say "The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imagination."

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It all depends

As a regular visitor to London I love having Oyster. I just need to remember to scan in and out for train/tube travel and with a simple flat fare on buses I only need to scan in. And it automatically tops up so I'm always able to pay the fare (bank balance permitting!)

For urban areas these smart cards are great and simple to use. It *could* (but probably won't) make travelling by First in Bristol simpler and cheaper but in outlying rural areas like Somerset they will have to use scan in and out to ensure they can charge the relevant extortionate fare.

All in all, though, for ease of use (if properly designed) and the fact that it could eliminate the abuse of 'change tickets' by the bus companies I'm all in favour.

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