London-style Oyster card for Edinburgh is probably at least five years away for travellers

Commuters hoping for an Oyster-style smartcard in Edinburgh will probably have to wait at least another five years before a system similar to that offered in London is available.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 15th November 2019, 7:30 am

As part of Edinburgh City Council’s City Centre Transformation – the plans for the next ten years of transport improvements and changes – a fully integrated ticket system including tram, bus and bikes should be in place by 2025-26 if all goes to plan.

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Calls for London-style Oyster card system on Edinburgh's public transport

However, such a system could quickly become complicated depending on the scope of the potential smartcard.

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Commuters hoping for an Oyster-style smartcard in Edinburgh will probably have to wait at least another five years before a system similar to that offered in London is available.

In Scotland there are several “ITSO” smartcards which can carry multiple types of tickets from different public transport operators who are also ITSO compliant.

ITSO is a member-run and funded organisation comprised of public authorities and public transport operators, with ScotRail, Stagecoach and the Glasgow Subway’s smartcards all part of the system.

However, Edinburgh Trams, Lothian buses and Just Eat Bikes in the Capital are not part of the scheme, meaning travellers cannot use just one card for travel across the city or to commute to and from West Lothian, East Lothian, Fife and Edinburgh.

The Ridacard system, which can be used for unlimited travel or loaded with individual rides, is only usable with the tram network or Lothian City, EastCoastBuses or Lothian Country services.

The Just Eat Bikes also operate on a separate ticketing system, using a phone app rather than a smartcard or cash.

Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government’s transport agency, announced an improvement to existing technology which will allow one smartcard to work across multiple modes of transport and different transport operators.

It means 16 smartcards, including Young Scot and National Entitlement cards for pensioners and the disabled, can be used for different modes of transport for the first time.

This allows customers to use one card for ScotRail tickets, Stagecoach bus tickets and Glasgow Subway tickets, rather than using individual cards for each operator or cash. However, asTransport for Edinburgh’s flagship smartcard, the Ridacard, is not linked to ITSO, travellers and commuters in the Capital are unable to take advantage of the change.

Evening News readers back calls for Oyster-style system

Readers echoed calls for an Oyster-style system from the Edinburgh Bus Users Group.

Yvonne Hutchison said: “Be a great idea. And if you have credit left it never gets taken away. Use on trains as well.

“In London it’s almost half price tickets on bus journeys. Brilliant idea, I’m all for it.”

Tony McGinley added: “The system could do with being more integrated, allowing you to hop on and off buses, trams and trains without having to buy a number of different tickets.”

Others painted a more cautionary tale and said changes did not need to be made.

Graham Meighan said: “I can’t see the need for a changes. Current fares are £1.70 for single, £4 for dayrider.

“So for an extra 60p over two rides you have a freedom of travel for a day. So it’s all about the odd journeys when a person travelling in one direction is using two services.

“What is the percentage of the total journeys and does it justify the implementation of changes?”

Another questioned the need for a special card at all with the growth of contactless card payments.

John Innes said: “Incompetence they didn’t in the first place. All UK bank cards now have Oyster technology built in anyway.”

The comments came as the Aberdeen-based FirstGroup announced contactless, apps and smartcard payments had outstripped cash payments for the first time in 2019.

A spokesman for Stagecoach said: “Our aim is to make all journeys as easy as possible for our customers, through contactless technology, mobile ticketing and through smart cards. This development eradicates the need for a customer to carry multiple smart cards to travel around Scotland.”

Transport Scotland, Lothian, FirstGroup, and ScotRail were all asked for comment about the potential introduction of an Oyster-style system in Edinburgh.

Success stories across the UK - and beyond

Several cities in the United Kingdom are streets ahead of Edinburgh when it comes to fully integrated ticketing systems, beyond the standard smartcard you might carry for one operator.

Away from Oyster in London, which has run successfully since 2004 and remains one of the most popular ways of paying for public transport in the capital, both Manchester and Merseyside have introduced similar, Oyster-style smartcards. In Manchester, the “get me there” card was launched in 2017 and works in a similar way to Edinburgh’s Ridacard.

However, unlike the Ridacard, which is only usable on Lothian and Edinburgh Tram services, it straddles the 23 privately run bus services which serve the Greater Manchester area as well as the publicly run tram service, Metrolink.

It has been dogged with complaints, however, including confusing pricing and a clunky app.

Liverpool introduced its own version named Walrus in 2011 on which users can use bus, rail and even the ferry. The card can hold day, weekly or monthly season tickets from different operators to be used at any time by travellers.

In Ireland, all public transport operators are signed up to Leap in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Sligo, Athlone and Wexford including bus, tram and train tickets.

This card operates across multiple transport operators and can be loaded with a number of trip tickets or with weekly or flexi tickets.

In Dublin, this includes Dublin Bus, the Ireland-wide Bus Eireann, and the Luas tram system alongside DART and commuter rail services.

London’s Oyster allows for travel on buses, trams, the London Underground, the Docklands Light Railway and the River Bus as well as rail routes in London and certain routes out of the capital.