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Railways: Smart Ticketing

Volume 629: debated on Thursday 19 October 2017

8. What steps his Department is taking to accelerate the availability of smart ticketing on the rail network. (901283)

We are investing some £80 million through our smart ticketing on national rail programme, so that all passengers have a paperless option for their journey by the end of 2018. We are also working to facilitate a rail industry pilot of smartcards on mobile phones, as well as rolling out pay-as-you-go ticketing across the hon. Gentleman’s franchise.

I welcome Southern railway’s plans to introduce smart ticketing across its network. I have also put in a request for the Oyster system to extend south of Gatwick airport to Three Bridges and Crawley stations. However, will my hon. Friend please speak urgently with GTR, the parent company of Southern, as their new ticket machines at many stations, including Three Bridges, have been malfunctioning, causing passengers significant disruption and queues? That situation needs to be resolved.

I am grateful for that comment. Ticket vending machines, which are meant to be among the most straightforward of equipment on our railways, seem to cause more problems than any other type of equipment. I understand that Govia Thameslink Railway is due to visit every ticket machine over the coming fortnight to make sure that the software is updated and that the machine functions properly, although I share my hon. Friend’s concern and will be meeting the supply chain in due course to emphasise the importance of getting this right.

I welcome progress on smart ticketing, and also plans for new ticket machines on the station platforms in my constituency, but the Northern Rail service through my constituency has been absolutely abysmal in recent weeks. May I echo the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) asked? What is being done to hold train operating companies to account when trains are overcrowded and short of carriages, and when there are cancellations and delays and people cannot even get to work on time?

I share the concern. We have continuous contact with the train operating companies at an official and a ministerial level—I frequently meet them. Where there are sustained examples of poor performance, they are escalated to what is called the national taskforce, where the train operating company must present to the wider industry what measures it is taking to reverse poor performance, and I will then meet that train operating company. I recognise the concerns around Northern. My primary concern at this stage is to ensure that new infrastructure is opened around the Greater Manchester area so that Northern can operate new rolling stock to replace the appalling Pacers, and introduce the new services that the Ordsall Chord, in particular, will enable.

Can the Minister require train operators to allow passengers who start their journey at a station that has no ticket facilities to use a print-at-home ticket, so that passengers at Langley Mill station in my constituency can actually use the cheaper advance tickets that they currently cannot?

I think that is a perfectly fair observation. We are seeking to ensure that when technology enables new forms of ticketing to be introduced, we move on that as far as possible. That includes paperless ticketing. It also includes work on barcode ticketing, which can be displayed on mobile phones. We have to do much better at ensuring that people may choose the ticket mode that works best for them.

I welcome what the Minister says about smart ticketing, but in advance of that, might he have a word with the rail authorities about how many tickets they send out? When someone pre-books, they get between eight and 10 tickets. Surely it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of the rail companies to put that information on one ticket. I hate to think how many forests we cut down for one rail journey.

I think that the rail authorities have already heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have noticed that I now get my seat reservation and my ticket on the same piece of paper, instead of on five. As we move towards more forms of paperless ticketing, we should have no pieces of paper at all unless we want them.

We were told £45 million, but the cost was £96 million. We were told 11 train operators co-ordinated, but it was just five working separately. We were told all passengers, but it was just season ticket holders, and full season ticket holders at that. Only 8% of those now eligible are using the system, with its scope cut, and it being overspent and massively overtime—and then the Government handed the problem back to the train operators. From this example in the south-east, can we really have confidence that the Government can deliver smart ticketing?

There is quite a straightforward reason why we can have confidence about the future, and it is largely because the south-east flexible ticketing programme did not just deliver smart ticketing across the south-east, which many passengers are now using, but put in place the architecture and computer systems that will enable smart ticketing on national rail to be a success.

Well, it was a pretty damning report from the National Audit Office. Yet again we have a Government unable to deliver on the railways and on something as simple as smart ticketing. Labour will be at the cutting edge of rail tech, while this Government still expect people to book separate tickets from separate operators—one national chaos under the Tories, one national public service with Labour. How much longer will the Government champion fragmented ticketing on a fragmented railway?

I always get rather frustrated when people have had an answer but paid no attention to what I said—but there we go. The report from the National Audit Office was important. It contained a number of lessons, which we took on board when setting out the national smart ticketing programme. Technology is changing rapidly. We have to make sure that the schemes we put in place now meet what technology can do in a year’s time, or two or three years’ time. We will be moving fast with tickets, and tickets will be unbelievably advanced by the time the Labour party ever gets back into power.