Sunday, 10 May 2009

Birmingham Oyster

Following a story run earlier in the year in the Birmingham Mail announcing that "Birmingham commuters [are] to get London-style smart cards", I wrote to Centro to enquire about the current state of this project. This was their response:

Thank you for your further email regarding the introduction of Smartcards within the Network West Midlands area.

Centro is due to implement a Smartcard system across the Network West Midlands area by December 2009 that will record journeys in a similar manner to Oyster Cards used in London, for Concessionary Travel Pass Holders Only. The current arrangement is that we provide a subsidy to operators for each journey concessionary pass holders make.

Once this system of travel has become firmly established Centro will carry out a review of their integrated ticketing strategy which will involve looking at best practices occurring across the globe, and significant market research, in order to assess local demand for this type of product. We recognise the need to introduce a simpler and flexible ticket product and are taking positive steps in order to achieve this goal.

However I must point out that fares in London are set locally by Transport for London who finances public transport in the Greater London area. Birmingham operates within a de-regulated environment and operators receive commercial income from fares charged to consumers. Agreement will have to be reached beforehand with all operators (Bus, Train & Metro) before the introduction of this
style of tickets can be considered.
Although it sounds like the powers-that-be want to see this sort of system eventually introduced to Birmingham's public transport system, I also detect hints that it's a much larger task than initially reported, and it could be years before we see anything on the scale of London's Oyster system, if ever. Although I remain hopeful, I can't help but feel pessimistic about the prospects for a truly integrated system in West Midlands, short of the council stumping up the cash to buy out all of the various operators currently fighting for fragments of the market and imposing it from the top down. Damn privatisation.

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