Translink have promised a ticket revolution over the next year that will link all their transport with a contactless card system.
The new system will mean people will be able to use bank card or smart card contactless taps that will cover all Metro and Ulsterbus, glider, and rail in an integrated way, with the payment at the end of the journey.
At present Ulsterbus and Metro journeys have no contactless facility, and have an often complex range of travel cards. The new system will integrate all bus and train journeys with the same system, with a single payment, and will be contactless as well as cash paid.
At Belfast City Council’s recent City Growth and Regeneration Committee (Wednesday June 23rd), representatives from the public transport company gave updates to elected representatives on a number of different projects.
As well as further detail on the much heralded zero and low emission bus fleet, which the company aims to be 100 strong by 2022, representatives gave details of a complete transformation of the current 18 year old ticketing system across its transport systems and all over Northern Ireland.
David Graham, Business Change Manager, told councillors the new account or single card system was “a key part of our building back activities over the next 18 months”.
He said the new Future Ticketing system was “a huge investment” at a cost of £42.7 million, and will double the amount of ticket machines to over 4,500.
The work comes from a 2016 contract with the company Flowbird, a French-headquartered company specializing in payment and ticketing systems in car parks and public transport systems.
David Graham said: “There has been a huge amount of work in the background to make a bespoke system for Northern Ireland.”
He added: “We had an opportunity to purchase modern dynamic technology that is going to allow us to collect fares and record journeys in a more modern way.
“We want to make it easier for people to buy and use tickets. The new technology allows more modern sales channels and it caters for evolving consumer behaviour patterns.”
The project has already started with the Belfast Glider system, established in 2018, and is moving forward this summer with the replacement of all the hand-held ticket machines on trains as the second phase, with all the current modes of payment continuing.
The next step is replacing all the bus ticketing machines this autumn, which will include contactless payment as well as travel card and cash options.
A “tap-on only” concept will be introduced which involves a bank card contactless payment on a flat fare anywhere in the Greater Belfast Metro area, and daily fare capping based on the amount of travel.
David Graham said: “Once all machines are replaced in Metro and Ulsterbus we want a system where people can just turn up, tap and travel without having to do research or pre-pay for where they want to travel.
“Over the years we have introduced quite a range of smart card products, they are well-used and well-liked, but you need to know what is best for you, and that requires knowledge from the buyer.
“We want to move to a single card system where we can offer similar value without the need for that research. You simply travel, the system works out your fare, based on what your travel patterns are. You are then charged at the end of the day, rather than being charged prior to travel, on bus, glider, rail the same way, with your charge being integrated.”
He gave councillors the example of a passenger called Tom on the new system who is visiting his wife in hospital.
He told councillors: “Tom basically has a contactless bank card and the Translink app which will track his journeys. Tom goes to the train station at Carrick, he taps on, boards the train and heads into Belfast.
“He then taps off as he leaves the platform validator as he leaves the train at Lanyon station, he walks out, taps at the glider halt with his bank card, jumps on the glider, goes straight to the Royal, and taps off when he reaches it.
“He visits his wife, and on return the first vehicle he sees is a Metro, he taps on beside the driver, travels into the city centre and taps off when leaving the bus. He then receives notification he has received his Metro day cap.
“He then walks round the corner to the Ulsterbus stop at Bridge Street, he taps in the Ulsterbus and the driver takes him back to Carrick. He taps off, and when leaving the bus gets the second notification he has met an I-link day cap.
“Each of those journeys gets racked up by the system, and he is charged a fare. It looks at the caps, and in Tom’s case he gets a discount of £3.50. Tom would not have had to ask for anything or do any research in advance.
“That is where we see our new system taking us to.”
Michael Kenwood – Local Democracy Reporter