Norman Baker writes… Towards a smarter public transport system

As readers of Lib Dem Voice will know, it has long been our party’s aim to create a transport system in this country that moves people towards low carbon options, including modal shift to public transport. This is not only crucial to achieve our environmental goals, but is also important to move away from our reliance on oil from, in particular, politically unstable countries.

So how do we do this at a time of austerity, when the Department for Transport has had to reduce its budget by £638million? We need to be smarter. We need to look at intelligent and innovative ways to change behaviour. This includes the public transport system. We need a transport system that is simple, seamlessly linking the beginning and end of one’s journey. I believe that smartcard ticketing moves us towards this.

Many of us will have travelled around London using an Oyster Card, moving from tube to bus with the swipe of a card, and many will have noticed the price when you buy a paper ticket, compared to when you use an Oyster Card. I want to see this concept expanded to the whole country and I am working at the DfT to achieve this.

We have already made significant progress and are on track to achieve our stated aim of having most public transport journeys in the country undertaken by smartcards by the end of 2014.

Recently, my Department has provided a further £20million of grant funding to the nine biggest urban areas in England outside of London to help to roll out the infrastructure needed and we continue to offer a BSOG incentive of 8% for operators with operational ITSO smart systems on their buses. Two of the biggest bus operators are rolling out smart ticketing across their fleets and smart ticketing is a condition of all newly tendered rail franchises. These are clear steps in the right direction.

Smartcard technology also allows more sophisticated pricing. Having a two-tier arrangement where train tickets are one price before 9.30 and one price afterwards fails to make best use of a finite network. If there is space on the 6:43am from Surbiton, but the 7:58am is packed to the gunnels, why not make the first cheaper than the second. Smartcard technology enables this to happen.

Equally, smartcards can help link up different bits of the same end-to-end journey, for example, including the hiring of a bike at the destination station within the cost of the ticket.

I recently announced the brand new £560million Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which will provide upfront investment for sustainable transport projects. This will support local groups, authorities, communities and private industry as they identify the right local transport solutions for their areas. I anticipate that if smart ticketing can encourage end-to-end journeys and integration between modes, it will be well placed to make use of this funding.

Public transport should be the veins that transport the lifeblood of our economy, the people, around the country. It should be simple, and by making it simple and convenient more people will use it. By 2020 I would like to see seamless travel on one smartcard throughout the country.

  • A single smartcard that you can use whether you are in Bristol on the bus, on the Tube in London or on the Metro in Newcastle.
  • A single smartcard that lets you hire a bike or join a car club.
  • A single smartcard that can be topped up in shops, online or by phone.
  • A single smartcard that makes travel easier and cheaper.

Smartcard technology has the ability to revolutionise the way we travel. We are making it happen.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • david thorpe 11th Apr '11 - 1:37pm

    some great ideas there

  • Andrew Duffield 11th Apr '11 - 1:49pm

    Smart taxation – collecting the economic rent of areas benefitting from public transport (potentially the whole country) – would, of course pay for all the necessary infrastructure and fund free travel threreafter.

    The oft-cited £3.5 bn Jubilee Line extension raised residential land values in the immediate areas of the stations by some £9 bn – and that excludes commercial sites, which probably rose by a further £2 bn on top!

    Collect that value annually – AS PER CURRENT LIB DEM POLICY “FOR THE LONGER TERM” – and you have a route map for economically and environmentally sustainable free public transport Norman. QED.

  • …. Cancelled out, perhaps, by our disastrous and inefficient plans for high-speed rail when it is clear that the benefits promised to the people of Kent (HS1) are nowhere near materialising.

  • Keith Browning 11th Apr '11 - 2:37pm

    Many discontinued rail routes are now being re-opened by volunteers from the many ‘preservation’ railway groups. What started as a few crazy people trying to preserve the past has become part of the transport system in many cut off rural areas and indeed some sizeable towns.
    Several need only a couple of million pounds or so to reconnect to the major networks and yet they are struggling to get sufficient donors and it will take years to complete some of these projects.

    This would by merely loose change to the transport ministry or a Whitehall officials slip of the pen, or perhaps a decent lunch out with his ministry colleagues!!

    Only £10-20 million would open several miles of route and bring thousands of people back on to the public transport network and away from their car.

    Seems an obvious and worthwhile way to proceed, without adding lots of noughts to the infrastructure budget.

  • Keith Browning 11th Apr '11 - 2:56pm

    Published today an appeal by the Bluebell Railway for just £2 million to reconnect to East Grinstead. Similar story at Swanage and elsewhere.

  • How about ending the system whereby the bus travel of wealthy pensioneers is subsidised by everyone else?

    Robson – HS2 has a very clear benefit in taking the pressure of the current West Coast Mainline. Given that the one really good part of privatisation (freight) has started to crowd passenger services, the extra capacity is a very good thing. I am not quite sure why the Coalition os so obsessed with speed – the pace of services is OK, it is very much a capacity issue.

  • The easiest way to provide more capacity is to use longer trains. The longer WCML trains add 50% to the number of standard class seats (no extra toilets, etc means lots of seats per carriage.

    I wonder about the cost of putting all this high tech stuff on some little used lines?

  • Until we get real and start talking about ending the farce of privatised rail services, we will never have the possibility of imitating service levels and efficiency seen in countries like Switzerland. However, the debate on public transport seems to have stalled, with all the three main parties obstinately refusing to recognise the fact privatisation has failed.

  • Tim: the problem is that longer trains don’t really add as much capacity as you think. For one, the trains won’t fit on the platforms at Euston. And second, longer trains means that the trains behind will have to stop at signals further back. If we have 20 10-cars per hour, that can only be “improved” to 14 15-cars.

    It’s for this reason we desperately need HS2, because the WCML is full. To get more people from Birmingham and Manchester to London, we need a second line at least up to Brum.

  • Old Codger Chris 11th Apr '11 - 10:58pm

    “How about ending the system whereby the bus travel of wealthy pensioners is subsidised by everyone else?”

    Absolutely right Duncan. And buses subsidised by Council taxpayers need reviewing. Some of them in my area are virtually empty except for the driver – not very green! Meantime the major bus companies report huge profits.

  • One easy way to cut down train congestion into London – many office workers could work at home for 2-3 days a week – the technology is there and it would save companies money too. However because of the inflexibility of the season ticket system most workers who need to travel in peak time are worse off if they do this.. why? Because it can easily be more expensive to buy 2 or 3 tickets in peak time than it is buy a season ticket for the week.

    What is required is a mid- range ticketing system that encourages home working but I see no hope of that ever happening – at the moment its just rigged in the train operators favour.

    The decision to stop the ring fencing of commuter fares into London and the trumpeting of a penny off car fuel tax are just other examples of how far we are off being anywhere serious about an integrated transport system.

  • Just to say thanks to Norman Baker for the article – I’d been hoping he would write something for LDV. Looking forward to hearing more about the Local Sustainable Transport Fund in due course.

    Keith – can funding for the reopening of railway lines (which I would love to see) come from the LSTF?

  • The Bluebell Railway link shows the patron as Viscount Thurso and a loco named Sir Archibald Sinclair – a LibDem plot?

  • Alex Macfie 13th Apr '11 - 2:05pm

    If there is space on the 6:43am from Surbiton, but the 7:58am is packed to the gunnels, why not make the first cheaper than the second.

    Maybe the reason the earlier train is as expensive as the later one is a “captive” commuter market: people travel on the 06:43 because of necessity, not choice, in order to be in the office when they are expected to be. People who travel during the day or at weekends are more likely to be making non-essential journeys, which is why it is cheaper to travel then.

  • Duncan: I agree that speed isn’t everything, at least not to all rail travellers. This is why most ‘fast’ lines have a mixture of fast and semi-fast services, with regular service intervals for both. Unfortunately, according to the ‘Signal Failures’ article in the latest Private Eye, the government is rejecting the idea of intermediate stations between London and Birmingham, so that Chilterns residents would have the pain of HS2 but no gain. This is similar to how Kent and Sussex residents have little benefit from HS1, because so few international trains stop at Ashford. Since late 2009, high speed trains run from St Pancras to Ashford; why not to Calais or even Lille? I see no reason why there should not be an inter-regional passenger rail service running along the high-speed line through the tunnel, stopping at all stations. It would serve, e.g. commuters from Calais to Kent or London, and people living in the south-east of England who want to travel to the continent while avoiding London. Now that Eurostar no longer has a statutory monopoly on cross-channel passenger rail services (why did it ever have one with no proper regulation?), the DfT should be actively working to support this concept. [Eurostar would never be interested, due to its quasi-religious belief that it is an ‘airline without wings’, and that the only conceivable way of travelling to and from the Continent is out of or into London.]

  • Reliance on ITSO to achieve this goal is a huge mistake. It’s a poorly thought-out scheme with incomprehensible documentation and a very poor security model. All the benefits outlined in this piece could be delivered by simply using bank-issued smart cards, as Transport for London are doing from next year, and without costing whatever it is that the Government spends on support for ITSO and special BSOGs to try to drum up support for it.

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