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Award-winning smart card scheme puts Cheshire on the map


Cheshire’s unitary councils are renowned for their forward thinking when it comes to using technology to improve citizen services. Having established a successful smart card scheme for commercial bus travel, the region sought to widen the programme to encompass concessionary travel. It also aspired to pave the way for further innovative transport and lifestyle applications.

In order to achieve these ambitions, it needed to replace its original non-ITSO smart card platform with an interoperable ITSO solution that would support ongoing expansion. As a highly respected name in the deployment of ITSO-compliant ticketing schemes, ACT was the clear choice.

Supporting continuous evolution

The Cheshire Concessionary Travel Consortium’s remit is to provide the county’s residents with the English National Concessionary Bus Pass in the most cost-effective manner.

The county of Cheshire benefited from the UK’s first smart card scheme for commercial, multi-operator bus travel in 2002 – long before London got its now-famous Oyster card.

In 2004, Cheshire wanted to replace the scheme’s proprietary platform with a fully ITSO-compliant solution. Explaining the key drivers, Colin Kennington, Principal Transport Officer for the Cheshire Concessionary Travel Consortium, says “This was intended to support future smart ticketing developments as well as wider non-transport applications. Fortunately that put us in a strong position when the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) was announced in 2007.

“ENCTS really brought smart cards and the ITSO standard into the mainstream as every Local Authority was required to issue eligible older and disabled residents with a new ITSO-compliant smart bus pass.

“We had to ensure that our concessionary schemes achieved value for taxpayers’ money, including preventing fradululent applications and misuse of the new passes.”

As a consistent leader in the field of ITSO-certified initiatives, Cheshire chose ACT to work with its stakeholders. “We first appointed ACT in 2004 on the strength of their ITSO capability,” says Colin, “Their challenge was to deliver a fully-compliant smart ticketing platform that would be inherently future-proof.”

A solid foundation for progress

In 2004, ACT worked closely with Cheshire’s local authorities and transport operators to deploy an integrated end-to-end ITSO architecture, including its HOPS transaction processing engine and Customer Management System (CMS). ACT’s unparalleled, in-depth understanding of the ITSO specification enabled it to translate the requirements into a workable, cost effective solution for the region.

Four years later, another key milestone was reached as ACT provided a substantial upgrade to its HOPS and CMS, which enabled Cheshire to support the DfT’s ENCTS specification for concessionary bus travel. It defined the products required to support the programme and introduced the new contactless cards that are now a key feature of the scheme.

“ACT has proved its worth as a cost-effective and technically strong partner time and time again,” says Colin.

Improving operational efficiencies

While the ENCTS smart cards can be used as flash passes, their true value can only be unlocked when used on a smart network. The Cheshire team worked in partnership with the bus operators to introduce ITSO card readers on the buses. At present, 60% of buses are ITSO enabled. ACT played a key role in this by enabling the ticket machines to communicate with the Cheshire HOPS.

The Cheshire Concessionary Travel Consortium has now issued ENCTS smart cards to 200,000 residents. Colin says the scheme has two real benefits, “Firstly, the ACT CMS helps prevent fraudulent applications through the checks it makes, secondly, the smart card readers on the buses prevent misuse of the passes, leading to a 3% saving on the concessionary travel budget."

Commercial ticketing

An increasingly ITSO-enabled network has also benefited fare-paying passengers. A major achievement was the introduction of the Cheshire Travelcard in 2010 – the UK’s first commercial multi-operator ITSO smart card.

To enable the launch, ACT created the new ITSO stored travel rights (STR) system and configured the CMS to support Cheshire in issuing the cards themselves.

Adding taxis… and adding value

The consortium also operates a concessionary taxi scheme for those physically unable to use buses or who live in areas not served by bus routes. Colin says “I inherited a paper-based scheme which was cumbersome and costly to administer as well as easily misused. ACT, the print bureau and Cheshire worked together to develop a new approach to using smart cards and secure vouchers. The resulting savings covered the cost of implementation in less than 12 months.

“As well as making things easier for the customer, the new taxi voucher scheme also helps the taxi operators by providing a better way of reconciling the vouchers and paying them.”

ACT is well on the way to delivering a fully-automated taxi voucher strategy. Redemption can already be tracked using barcode scanning and is captured within the CMS. “That means we can cross-reference this data with passenger records from the concessionary bus pass scheme, to ensure that applicants are not claiming for assisted travel on both taxis and buses,” observes Colin.

“By bringing the taxi voucher scheme into the CMS, the redemption process will be auditable from end to end in future, resulting in prompt and accurate settlement for the taxi companies.”

A model for national smart card initiatives

Thanks to ACT’s open-ended design, the Cheshire scheme has become a model for national, interoperable smart card initiatives. “We plan to develop cross-border bus agreements with the neighbouring Local Authorities, and we’re looking at bringing rail operators on board in future,” says Colin. “We are also exploring other, non-transport-related applications for the smart card in order to provide a more joined-up citizen service and drive efficiencies,” he adds.

Colin continued, “The ACT solution has also enabled us to expand beyond Cheshire; we already provide a HOPS service to a bus operator at the other side of the Country and are interested in talking to other operators and Local Authorities where we can help them deliver smart ticketing for mutual benefit.”

What would Colin advise other regions thinking of embarking on a similar programme? “A future-oriented scheme needs forward-thinking partners. We’re fortunate in having a very strong, effective working relationship with ACT that spans several years and multiple enhancements. They understand our vision and work with us to deliver our ambitions. ACT’s open-ended foundation means that potential applications for the smart card are only limited by our imagination.”


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“We’re fortunate in having a very strong, effective working relationship with ACT that spans several years and multiple enhancements. </ br> “They understand our vision and work with us to deliver our ambitions. ACT’s open-ended foundation means that potential applications for the smart card are only limited by our imagination”

Key facts

The Cheshire Travelcard scheme spans 6 bus operators, 11 depots and 500 buses, covering 120 routes

60% of all bus journeys in Cheshire are now undertaken on ITSO smart-equipped buses, with 13 million journeys registered annually

Bus usage has increased by 5%, exceeding the
national average

200,000 concessionary travel cards have been
issued since 2008, with a further 10,000 cards in circulation for commercial use

The concessionary card scheme has already reduced fraud by 3%, saving the Cheshire Concessionary Travel Consortium £225,000

“ACT has proved its worth as a cost-effective and technically strong partner time and time again.”