I am writing to you finally with more news about what is happening about Oyster and pay as you go ticketing for Epsom.
As you will recall, I wrote after becoming Transport Secretary to say that I wasn’t simply in a position to introduce changes for my own constituency – the rules rightly do not allow ministers to do that. And I have been working on a broader project to introduce smart ticketing and pay as you go on a much wider basis.
Let me start with the big picture, and then talk about what is planned for Epsom (and Ashtead).
Smart ticketing is now being introduced on many of the suburban rail networks around the country, with systems in place in many areas, and on the way in others. In our area both Southern and South West Trains have introduced smart cards, as are other railways around London. But these are currently only available to carry normal ticket purchases, and season tickets. You cannot pay as you go in the same way that Oyster cards in London allow.
I have set my department and the industry the goal of introducing smart cards around the country together over as wide an area as possible over the next two years. The new systems are using a common technology with the aim that what works in Newcastle or Manchester will also work in Birmingham or Surrey. That same system is being used by bus operators around the country. In the early stages the norm will be to have dedicated smart cards, but after that in many places to extend to contactless credit and debit cards. I have also been clear that I want to see more options for pay as you go rail travel across the UK.
Typically this will only work for shorter journeys, probably up to the same kind of daily limit as using a contactless card for purchases. You are not going to use pay as you go tickets for a journey from Manchester to London, for example.
Instead for those longer journeys you will be able to buy a ticket on your phone, and download a barcode which will enable you to either pass through ticket barriers or have your ticket checked by an inspector.
We are moving ahead with both of these systems as soon as possible. We won’t get rid of paper tickets, but they will be much less common than today.
The local news is that Epsom is part of the first pay as you go system trial in the country outside London (as is Ashtead as well). Southern may have had a difficult period in recent months, but they are actually ahead of the pack with smart ticketing on the railways. From the end of last month Southern introduced the KeyGo system, which has added a pay as you go system to their existing KeyGo smart card. At the moment it only works on Southern trains in to Victoria and London Bridge, or down towards Dorking and Horsham – and elsewhere on their network – during a trial period that will last a few months until the system has been tested robustly. After that the plan is to extend it so that it can be used across London just like an Oyster card.
I have tried the system and can vouch that it works. I tapped in and out going into Victoria last week, and it worked fine without having to buy a ticket. The system works in a similar way to a contactless card – it tops up automatically from your bank account as you use it.
Southern are keen that people sign up to the card and try it out during the trial period. So if you travel on the Southern lines towards Sutton and Victoria and London Bridge and just need to buy a train ticket, it would be good if you could try it out and let me know how you get on. All the details are on the Southern Rail website – http://www.southernrailway.com.
I will keep you posted as we make progress.
There is also about to be a major change on the South West Trains route. We have just announced that from the summer it will be run by a joint venture between First Group, who currently run Great Western, and MTR, who operate the Hong Kong metro system. The plans involve a big investment in the route and some innovative ideas about making the service more reliable. Together with the introduction of 10 coach trains later this year I hope the change will make a difference for commuters into Waterloo.