The Journal - Smart cards on way for Tyne & Wear Metro
ELECTRONIC bus and Metro passes could pave the way for a "cash-free" North East economy, transport bosses say.
City leaders want to see passengers across the region given the chance to use one "smart card" pass for all bus and train journeys. Paying by card would mean customers just swipe their card as they get on board.
And now the transport committee putting together the computer network behind the card has started talks with big businesses and North East football clubs to see if the pass could be used for other payments.
Within three years the technology will be in place to allow customers to pay for a cup of coffee on the high street or a season ticket at their football club on the travel pass, providing business leaders join the scheme.
The technology behind the smart cards will be compatible with free bus passes, up to 500,000 of which have been handed to North East pensioners.
Last night Tobyn Hughes, director of strategy at Nexus, said plans going to today's Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority would show how £10m could transform public transport.
He said: "Once we are confident of exactly what we are doing with smart cards on the Metro we can look to the wider benefits.
"Now this depends on what other businesses want to do, but it could include at the very least linking up with local authorities to bring a lot of services together on one card, including discount schemes or swimming pool cards."
He added: "We will eventually create an e-purse where you don't have to worry about buying different tickets, the card just remembers what you have done and converts it to the right payment.
"We have had informal talks with businesses and football clubs, which are too early to say how they will develop, but we have the potential to use that e-purse to allow you to purchase a paper from a newsagent or pay for a season ticket."
Nexus hopes to have its new smart card up and running by 2011, using £15m of transport investment.
Within a year they will be looking to link this up to other regional smart card schemes.
The council partnership behind the smart cards also wants the Government to hand over new powers to introduce a "unified fare structure", which would introduce flat rates for bus journeys across the region.
Newcastle councillor Greg Stone, who sits on the integrated Transport Authority, said council bosses were working together to create the smart card technology.
He said: "This is a huge step in the right direction. I know myself when I go to London how useful the Oyster Card is and our long-term plan here will build on that and offer much more.
"If you're on the way to the Metro why shouldn't you be able to buy your coffee or Journal with the same pass? We have been looking at this for some time now and there is a real will to see this go ahead."