‘Contactless by 2019’ – Transport for Greater Manchester promises improvements to much-maligned smart-ticketing system

Written by Sam Trendall on 27 September 2017 in News
News

City’s transport authority tells PublicTechnology that platform is still a work in progress, and that many of the changes citizens are calling for will follow in the next few years

Metrolink trams accept tickets loaded onto both the Get Me There card and app, but Manchester's buses accept only the former. Credit: PA
 
After coming in for heavy criticism, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has admitted its new smart-ticketing system is “not yet where we want [it] to be”, but has laid out a longer-term plan for the platform that includes contactless payment and Oyster-style top-up.
 
The Get Me There scheme includes an app and a smart card – dubbed My Get Me There – which can be used on the city’s Metrolink tram system and a bus network that encompasses more than 30 operators across upwards of 600 routes. The programme, which was fully introduced this summer, is often likened to London’s Oyster card system.
 
But the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the programme – particularly in comparison with its counterpart in the capital – have already come in for heavy criticism online from residents and onlookers.
 
These are some of its critics’ main bones of contention:
  • The smart cards can only be obtained via an online-ordering process which takes an estimated five to seven working days for delivery, or bought at one of 16 TfGM Travelshops – very few of which are in the city centre, none of which are ever open beyond 8.20pm, and all but three of which are closed all day on Sunday.
  • Despite sharing a brand name, the Get Me There card and app are currently in no way integrated.
  • The card can be used on both buses and trams, while the app can currently only be used on trams. 
  • Neither can currently be used on train services in the city.
  • Neither the card nor the app can be topped up with cash, but rather must be loaded with specific tickets for either individual journeys or travelcards.
  • Tickets on the app cannot be bought in advance and will take effect immediately once purchased. Single and return tickets must be used within two hours of being bought.
  • Bus travelcards for use on the smart card cannot currently be purchased online.
  • The use of contactless payment cards is currently not supported by any of the smart readers.
  • Most – but not all – of Manchester’s bus operators have smart readers on their vehicles. For “the small number” of buses that do not, passengers are advised to keep hold of paper receipts.
 
TfGM’s customer director Stephen Rhodes told PublicTechnology that “while the introduction of combined bus/tram tickets and Metrolink tickets on Get Me There this summer marks a step forward, we acknowledge there is some way to go”.
 
He added that TfGM has “noted the many comments” made by the public about the system’s perceived failings, particularly those that compared it unfavourably to its London equivalent.
 
“We are proactively working to address these issues with partners,” said Rhodes.
 
He added: “What customers like about Oyster – and what we are working towards – is the integration across all modes and a ‘best-price promise’, which means customers automatically receive the cheapest price for travel. But we can’t compare the transport systems and smart-ticketing solutions in Greater Manchester with London, largely because the public transport market, both in terms of funding and operating conditions, is very different.”  
 
When asked by PublicTechnology, Rhodes also directly addressed some of the specific criticisms above, and in doing so offered some insights into how the Get Me There system might develop.
 
On the retail availability of the smart cards
“Customers currently have the option of ordering a card online, or buying one from one of the 16 Travelshops across the region – as well as the Metrolink app, which is free to download and that currently accounts for more than 10% of all Metrolink tickets sold. While we regularly review our processes to ensure we make travel as easy as possible, we believe that the current retail options meet customer needs and currently have no plans to expand it.”
 
On whether the app and the card can be integrated, and the possibility of adding bus journeys to the app
“We are introducing improvements incrementally – in a similar way to how the Oyster system was introduced, and improved, over time. We are currently exploring the technical feasibility and potential cost of extending the app.”
 
On the possibility of implementing cash top-ups or contactless payments 
“We’ve always been clear: this is one step on the journey towards a fully integrated system, which will include Oyster-style top-up and contactless payment. We’re continuing to develop a more integrated ticketing system, including working towards introducing contactless and alternative payment methods from 2019 – while also taking sensible steps to make travel easier today.”
 
On whether Get Me There could be introduced on the train system
“This is one of the aspirations for Greater Manchester, and TfGM is working closely with Transport for the North on their plans to roll out smart [technology] at selected stations in Greater Manchester as part of a smart-ticketing system that covers the whole of the north.” 
 
On whether bus travelcards will be made available for online purchase
“This is another aspiration for Greater Manchester. Currently, smart readers on buses can sell a ticket or check its validity but can’t ‘fulfil’ or upload a ticket after purchase to allow it to be used. TfGM is currently exploring a number of options that would enable bus tickets purchased online to be validated at bus stations across Greater Manchester.”
 
On whether the system currently makes travelling either cheaper or easierManchester mayor Andy Burnham poses with an oversized My Get Me There card
“We are working towards an integrated smart ticketing system that offers a ‘best price promise’ – so that customers automatically receive the cheapest price for travel. Between now and then, we are making incremental improvements to Get Me There. The Get Me There system makes it easy for users with an account to view and purchase a range of products online, making travel easier and more flexible and eliminating the need to carry cash or queue at ticket machines. Season ticket holders benefit from added security, as any lost or stolen tickets and travelcards that have more than seven days left to run will be replaced, with users able to order new cards online. As well as the introduction of online retail, and the launch of a new range of multimodal bus and tram products, a new 16–18 smart card has also been introduced that entitles the holder to buy a one-day AnyBus ticket at half-price – reducing the cost of journeys and enabling our young people to more easily access work and leisure opportunities, training, education, and skills.”
 
On TfGM’s feelings about the rollout so far
“We acknowledge there is some way to go but are working hard to develop Get Me There, improving our offering one step at a time, delivering customer benefit here and now where we can. More than 120,000 Get Me There cards have been issued since its introduction in November 2015, with card holders benefiting from a flexible and secure way to buy Metrolink, bus or combined bus and tram products for travel across the region."
 
On the criticism received so far
"We absolutely value feedback from customers and acknowledge we aren’t yet where we – or they – want us to be. We are confident that we are working towards delivering a ticketing system over the next few years that we can all be proud of. Our phased approach ensures we are delivering additional customer benefit at each stage of this journey."
 
 
About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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