TWO TRANSPORT smart cards being developed for use in London risk being incompatible with each other, NCE learnt this week.
The cards are being developed in parallel by Transport for London and the Association of Train Operating Companies. Both groups hope to offer seamless ticketing for the traveller on all modes of public transport and are expected to become a familiar feature in the capital after 2002.
But there are growing fears that passengers will be unable to use all systems with one card, leading to a situation where bus, tube and tram users in London would need a second card to board local trains.
A concerned chairman of the Government backed Commission For Integrated Transport David Begg told NCE this week that he had been forced to bring the two parties together.
'At the moment we have a ridiculous situation where the smart cards for the Train Operating Companies and the London Transport card will not be compatible, ' he said 'This is a basic thing that needs sorting out.'
But Begg's fears extended beyond the capital. He added: 'At long last this market is happening, but the big problem is there are too many smart card schemes. There needs to be one specified card that is used all over the country. We are going to bring together the people developing interticketing smart cards to ensure their schemes are compatible.'
The problem in London is understood to stem from Transport for London's 'Prestige' project to develop a smart card. This work began in August 1998 before the DETR produced its new Integrated Transport Smart Card Organisation (ITSO) general specification which will be published this month.
The £1.1bn TfL project, being carried out by the Transys consortium of Cubic Transportation Systems, Electronic Data Systems, International Computers and WS Atkins, is not expected to conform to the DETR's specification.
However, Prestige project manager Chris Oulds said that Transys had already started work to ensure that the card would eventually be compatible with other systems. 'We recognised two years ago that there might be a problem. We've already spent a lot of time working on a new specification, ' she said. 'We are planning to have a London-wide smartcard by autumn 2002 that other systems can buy into.'
Oulds added: 'The DETR specification is expected to be slightly different but not that different. We are looking to migrate our system to the ITSO standard as soon as is feasible and ensure inter-operability with the Train Operating Companies but it's going take at least a year.'