As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, work is already under way on an integrated ticketing strategy for England. The intention is to publish a consultation paper on this subject later in the year. Officials are meeting key stakeholders to make progress on the consultation paper.
Is the Minister aware of the advanced plans from transport stakeholders in the north-east for a regional smartcard travel scheme across all modes of transport? Is he willing to discuss with the regional development agency, One NorthEast, the £5 million shortfall that is now the only obstacle to an early introduction of smartcard travel across the region, with all the benefits that that would bring?
The prioritising of schemes for regional fund allocation funding is a matter for each region. In respect of the Nexus scheme in the north-east, the Department for Transport has approved £12.8 million to replace all ticket machines on the system with modern versions that take notes and cards. That is not smartcard ticketing, but readers can be installed at a later date. I hear what he says about the shortfall and the RDA. I am always happy to look at anything that he asks me to, but obviously I cannot give any commitments on funding.
We also need a national strategy on ticketing that includes airlines. Many of my constituents are suffering from the low-cost practices of companies such as Flybe, which do not give refunds or may demand exorbitant prices and fees for the changing of tickets due to changes made to a journey, even when given plenty of notice. What can the Government do to help travellers who are paying through the nose in these credit-crunch times—or even in difficult family circumstances—and who are having to pay for changes to tickets and travel without the possibility of a refund?
The hon. Gentleman’s constituents are obviously having difficulty in securing refunds. The regulator would be the first place to go to try to get this matter addressed. It is always difficult for constituents when there are cancellations. Criteria are set down on when refunds ought to be paid, depending on the nature of the cancellation of flights. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will be very happy to point him in the right direction.
My hon. Friend will be aware that for a number of years, I have been urging the Department for Transport to work with Southeastern trains to ensure that the Oyster card is compatible with the reader machines on its network. It has promised that it will do that by the end of the year, but can I impress upon him the need to keep a tight rein on Southeastern trains to make sure that that change is implemented for the long-suffering commuters of south-east London?
I can advise my hon. Friend that we are close to reaching a deal with Transport for London and the relevant train operators to introduce Oyster pay-as-you-go on rail services throughout London. As part of the same agreement, ITSO will be accepted in due course on the bus and underground networks in London. We are monitoring that carefully and closely. We know that most commuters are very keen to see it happen, and we will do what we can to ensure that it happens as soon as possible.