Thursday, 19 August 2010

Separate travel cards an 'interim' step

THOUSANDS OF commuters with multiple-trip tickets for Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann services in the capital are being issued with two separate “smartcards”, rather than one, because the CIÉ subsidiaries have different microchip-reading machines.

And both are incompatible with the Luas smartcard, despite numerous promises over the years – and an investment of €50 million, so far – that Dublin would soon have integrated ticketing for all public transport services, along the lines of London’s Oyster card.

Veolia Transport, which operates Luas on behalf of the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA), was the first to introduce a smartcard in 2005. Dublin Bus followed in 2008 by issuing multi-trip tickets with magnetic strips, as a “precursor” to smartcard technology.

Iarnród Éireann is now catching up, with a slightly thinner smartcard that won’t work on either Luas or Dublin Bus services. Spokesmen for the agency and the two CIÉ subsidiaries have all insisted this was the plan all along – calling it an “interim measure”.

Dublin Bus has begun notifying customers that all Dublin area annual bus and rail tickets with magnetic strips are being replaced with smartcards. The older technology “can result in both ticket corruption and failure”.

Dawn Bailey, Dublin Bus marketing and sales manager, noted Iarnród Éireann was issuing smartcards and said “both cards must be carried together at all times” for those using both services.

The bus company’s spokesman said its smartcard was “developed with the agreement of the Integrated Ticketing Project Board, which is overseeing the introduction of the multi-operator integrated ticketing scheme for the Greater Dublin Area”.

He said Dublin Bus “envisaged that the majority or all of our existing smartcard products will transfer onto the one integrated card scheme when it is launched” some time next year. Initially, it will apply to bus and Luas services, then to Dart and suburban rail.

The agency spokesman said that, under the rollout of this new technology, “it was always intended that each of the companies would introduce its own smartcard and test it” for a period of time before full integration between the three services was finally achieved. “It was never intended that there would be a ‘big bang’, with a single smartcard introduced together. All sorts of arrangements have to be made, including security issues, and we also have to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the distribution of revenue.”

He said the Luas smartcard, issued jointly with private bus operator Morton’s, had been bought by 60,000 customers. It is cheaper than regular fares, and avoids the need to use ticket machines.

The Iarnród Éireann spokesman described the issuing of different smartcards as “an interim means of doing it until a fully integrated card comes in”.

Despite their incompatibility, he said the new rail and bus smartcards – costing €1,190 annually – would be easier to use.

James Nix, transport and planning policy co-ordinator with the Irish Environmental Network, said there had been “no [rail and bus] smartcard for ages, and then two come at once. The whole idea of a public transport smartcard is that there would be just one.”

Irish Times

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