Photo: Transport for London

NEWLY-APPOINTED UK Secretary of State for Transport Douglas Alexander and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone announced on May 10 that they had reached agreement to expand the use of Transport for London's Oyster smart card ticketing to suburban rail services.

Introduced in 2003, there are now more than 5 million Oyster cards in use. They are currently accepted at around 60 out of 310 National Rail stations in the London area. TfL has agreed to fund the installation of Oyster validators at the rest, although it will be down to individual operators to decide whether to participate in the 'Pay-as-you-go' stored value ticketing scheme.

At the same time, TfL will work with the Department for Transport to ensure that Oyster equipment on the London Underground, tram and bus networks can accept smart cards using the ITSO standards specified for National Rail ticketing schemes.

DfT has included in the current tendering for the South Western franchise due to start in 2007 a requirement for the new franchisee to study the application of smart card ticketing across the whole franchise area.

Following exploratory talks with banks and other possible partners, TfL has abandoned plans to introduce an electronic purse function to the Oyster pre-pay facility. The intention was that passengers could use Oyster to pay for newspapers, snacks and car parking, as is done with Octopus in Hong Kong, for example, but the security and encryption requirements would make the transaction processing costs prohibitive.