Leading the country in smarter ways to travel [Newcastle Journal (England)]
(Newcastle Journal (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) THE North East is leading the country in giving local people the benefit of new smart travel on public transport.
On the Tyne and Wear Metro more than 100,000 people are now using smart cards to pay for and make journeys, touching in and out easily at station gates and validators.
Passengers will shortly be able to pay for travel at more than 400 Payzone outlets around the North East, or use new online facilities to load value or products on to smart cards.
This coincides with the countdown to the launch of the first universal 'pay as you go' smart travel network for public transport outside London Older and disabled passengers in the region are already making more than a million journeys a week using smart cards, helping reduce fraud and deliver value for money to local councils who pay for their travel.
Investment by NESTI, the North East Smart Ticketing Initiative partnership of local authorities, means that a single card will from this year buy travel on buses anywhere from Northumberland to the Tees Valley, with the holder being charged the local operator's fare.
Within Tyne and Wear, Pop card holders on Metro and the Shields Ferry, both owned and managed by Nexus, will have the option to use a cash balance to pay for discounted journeys whenever they need them - with the price capped to a maximum each day they travel. While investment by NESTI has ensured there is a single common smart technology for the region, work is still to be done to provide integrated tickets alongside the different smart brands used by transport operators.
Coun David Wood, chairman of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, said: "North East England is in the middle of the biggest rollout of smart tickets and technology since the introduction of the Oyster card in London.
"People across the region are seeing the benefits of the hard work done by the ITA, NESTI, Nexus and local authorities to put a single smart infrastructure in place."
John Fenwick, director of finance and resources for Nexus, said: "We are proud to have delivered a common smart technology and standard for North East England on behalf of our local authority partners within NESTI.
"The real ambition of many people in the region is to see an integrated smart product that matches Oyster in London. While that is now technically possible its introduction is heavily dependent upon striking the right commercial arrangements with private sector bus operators, something that is challenging in the current deregulated local transport market."
But Mr Fenwick said smart travel on Metro, along with the introduction in November of gatelines at key stations, was having a widespread benefit.
"Passengers appreciate the ease and flexibility of using Pop smart cards, and we know people can't wait to see us become the first area outside London to offer pay-as-yougo travel.
"Metro is at its busiest in the run-up to Christmas, and this year we saw healthy revenue growth help push sales from ticket machines above Pounds 3m in a single four-week period for the first time.
"We are also seeing the impact as we phase in the use of gates at main stations, making it much harder for people to avoid paying for travel.
"Nexus is a public body and relies on a subsidy to operate Metro, but the benefit of healthy sales is passed on to the passenger as we have kept average fare rises below inflation for 2014."
Nexus has so far issued more than 60,000 Pop cards to Metro passengers and expects that number to grow as pay-as-you-go travel is introduced this year.
More than 40,000 older people with concessionary travel passes also now buy their Metro travel as a smart product - making the North East the first place in the country where a paid-for ticket can be added to the familiar 'bus pass'.
And thousands of students now upload Metro tickets on to their Newcastle University campus cards in a unique pilot project between NESTI and the university, something that could soon be rolled out across other universities and colleges across the North East.
The introduction of smart travel goes hand-in-hand with a number of projects led by Nexus to transform public transport in the region.
It is investing Pounds 389m over 11 years in renewing and modernising the Metro system - replacing life expired track, technology and other infrastructure while also giving stations and trains a bright new look and better accessibility.
Nexus is also investing in the improvements for bus passengers with more lighting and CCTV at shelters and interchanges, while working closely with local authorities in Tyne and Wear to avoid cuts to publicly-funded routes seen across much of the rest of the country. And the story could be just beginning for smart technology, now that NESTI has delivered a smart infrastructure that could be deployed into a whole range of local public services in the future.
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