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Two events that are not directly linked but which have significant long-term implications for the way in which bus fare payment systems are likely to develop occurred in recent weeks.

Transport for London (TfL) announced that cash will no longer be accepted on buses in the capital from 6 July onwards.

Customers will instead be obliged to produce an Oyster card, a prepaid ticket, a contactless payment card or a concessionary pass. Ninety-nine per cent of them do so already, says TfL, so switching to cash-free is unlikely to cause an earthquake.

Almost at the same time, FirstGroup’s bus division announced that passengers would be able to use their mobile phones as a ticketing medium - so-called m-ticketing - with the launch of its First Bus Mobile Tickets app, available free-of-charge on App Store and Google Play.

Travellers can use the app to buy FirstDay, FirstWeek and First4Week tickets. All they need to do is download it, register, select the ticket they want and navigate the secure payment system.

Once the payment section is complete, the tickets inhabit a virtual wallet ready for the customer to show the driver. All repeat users need to do is select the tickets they require, then confirm the security code on their credit or debit card.

The initiative is initially being rolled out by First Worcester and First Aberdeen and will be implemented throughout the First UK Bus empire by the end of the year. The system has been built and is being managed by Corethree.

Some of the reasons for TfL’s abolition of cash, and FirstGroup’s attempt to persuade fewer customers to use it by enabling them to pay with their phone instead, are not dissimilar.

Carry cash in a vehicle and there are always security issues to worry about.

Notes and coins are expensive and cumbersome to handle. They’ve got to be counted, whatever has been taken has got to be reconciled with the number of tickets sold and the money has got to be loaded into an armoured van and taken to the bank.

Ditch cash, and boarding times are likely to be quicker.

First UK Bus does not operate services in London and stresses that it has no plans to scrap cash voluntarily. It believes however that making it possible to use a mobile to buy a ticket will help it attract new customers who will no longer have to worry that they might not have enough money on them to travel.

First is by no means the only operator to offer m-ticketing. Nor can it claim to be ahead of the rest; Arriva for example has been strongly wedded to the concept for some time.

Last November saw Lothian Buses begin to provide the facility and it has sold well in excess of 100,000 m-tickets since. Cardiff Bus launched m-ticketing in December and saw 50,000 customers use the service in its first four months of operation.

“Most people today have a smart phone of some kind and want to be able to do things on the go,” says Cardiff Bus operations and commercial director Peter Heath.

Cardiff Bus has been incentivising travellers to switch to m-ticketing by offering its ‘day to go’ day tickets at a reduced rate. Such incentives are essential if customers are to be persuaded to abandon cash and paper tickets in markets where the use of cash cannot realistically be banned says PwC, which provides a variety of special services to businesses.

Research it published last year revealed that 80 per cent of people who travel by bus and rail and use paper tickets would switch to another medium if there was something in it for them.

That something could be a guarantee that using a smart card or a mobile phone would give them a discount on the cash fare or the lowest fare for a particular journey. A 10 per cent discount would prompt over 50 per cent of them to change, says the survey.

M-ticketing is not the preserve of the bigger fleets. Smaller operators such as Guildford, Surrey-based Safeguard Coaches are getting in on the act too.

It has forged links with Mobile Onboard which is providing it with My Mobile Tickets m-ticketing and onboard Wi-Fi too for its Into Town bus service which offers a regular link into Guildford city centre. The aim is to encourage more youngsters to use it.

Passengers do not have to install an app to use My Mobile Tickets which means that it should work on all modern mobile phones regardless of model. “We like being able to engage with and get to know our passengers from the user data that is collected,” says Safeguard managing director Andrew Halliday.

The rush to embrace m-ticketing does not mean smartcards are dead; far from it, says Arriva.

It has recently been working with Parkeon to introduce a low-cost smartcard system for use by students attending colleges and universities in Wales and the north west of England. It uses Parkeon smartcard technology but with a chip and antenna embedded in a tag adhered to student passes.

Parkeon’s Wayfarer200 onboard platform processes the transaction in the usual way, but the data collected enables Arriva to see when and how frequently the smartcards are being used. It makes it easy for them to be hot-listed to combat fraud too.

Parkeon’s technology is also being used in conjunction with the Arriva Connect smartcard which was launched on the new Luton and Dunstable Busway late last year. Cards have been given out to local residents in a bid to encourage them to try it.

If you use plastic when you board a bus then increasingly there is every chance that it will be contactless.

Last December saw TfL celebrate the first anniversary of contactless cards being used on the capital’s buses. Over 6.5 million journeys were made during the initial 12 months employing MasterCard, Visa Europe or American Express contactless plastic and TfL has indicated that it is unlikely it will introduce m-ticketing any time soon given contactless’ popularity.

Vix Technology has been at the forefront of contactless developments, something that was recognised in April when it won the Public Domain accolade for 2014 at the Contactless and Mobile Awards.

It was a prize that recognised in particular the fare collection system that Vix designed and operates in the USA for Salt Lake City’s Utah Transit Authority.

Branded as UTA Farepay, but based on Vix’s eO (easy and open) technology, it offers users multiple ways to pay. As well as proffering cards issued by UTA itself they can use student and employee ID cards, credit cards and ISIS and Google mobile phone wallets.

Three months earlier Vix was awarded the MasterCard Transport Ticketing Technology of the Year accolade - again for UTA Farepay – at the Transport Ticketing 2014 Conference and Expo.

The smart ticketing, planning and duty rostering system introduced by INIT to Nottingham City Transport (NCT) uses INIT’s latest touch-on/touch-off  PROXmobil2 ITSO-2.1.4-certified smartcard validator. As a consequence it is compatible with the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and can handle Nottingham’s ITSO-based Citycard and NCT’s commercial Easyrider smartcard.

Furthermore, it is EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) Level 1 card reader prepared, and is built to be capable of reading 2D bar codes and coping with NFC (Near Field Communications) requirements should it need to.

In the midst of all these developments anybody taking cash will have to cope with a new £1 coin from 2017 onwards; and with a 12-sided shape, it will look radically different from the one in circulation today. It will also contain a variety of anti-counterfeiting measures.

“The current £1 coin has been around for some 30 years so the announcement of a new one is welcome news,” says Jeff Carr, managing director of Scan Coin, which provides coin and note depositing, sorting and counting equipment. “The present £1 coin lacks the necessary security deterrents and counterfeits have appeared recently that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

“They have been a challenge to Scan Coin and to our customers. However the new coin will provide security for the future.”

Both Carr and Nigel Hufton, managing director of exact fare vault supplier Fabtech, believe that cash still has a future, regardless of TfL’s policy; and the future is a global one.

“If for example you fly into some big cities worldwide and you want to get the bus from the airport to the city centre, then you may want to pay your fare using the loose change in your pocket because you don’t have a suitable smart card on you,” Hufton observes.

Not that Fabtech concentrates solely on vaults. It supplies all sorts of other ticketing-related items to bus operators, from smart card readers to units that will accommodate a Wayfarer200 without the need to modify the dashboard.

“We do a lot of bespoke stuff,” he says. In the bus industry, not everyone wants the same thing; and one size definitely does not fit all.
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