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Realising Merseytravel’s smart ticketing vision


The Department for Transport's (DfT) smart ticketing strategy aims to increase use of public transport in major cities while reducing costs to operators and local transport authorities.

When Merseytravel decided to unify its public transport system across the Liverpool region, it embarked on an ambitious project, spanning physical infrastructure as well as the upgrade and integration of back-office systems.

A trusted provider was called for - one with mature and proven capability in this relatively young market, that could provide flawless execution and dependable ongoing support.

Creating a joined-up public transport system for Merseyside

As part of its remit to serve the interests of the public, the economy and the environment, the DfT is encouraging cities to adopt the smart ticketing concept. At the heart of any such scheme is a single card that passengers can use seamlessly across different modes of transport, giving them greater choice, flexibility and value.

Merseytravel is the operating name of the Merseyside Integrated Transport Authority and Passenger Transport Executive. Unusually, its estate encompasses not only bus operators and a rail franchise, but also the city’s road tunnels and the Mersey Ferry.

Helen Mitchell, Head of Smart & Integrated Ticketing at Merseytravel, explains: “By implementing a smart ticketing scheme, we aimed to create a joined-up public transport network that would put the needs of residents, workers and visitors to the region at the heart of our business.”

Merseytravel’s existing ticketing scheme was part card- and part paper-based, and provided little insight into passenger behaviour and preferences. “We wanted to collect accurate data on transport usage so we could optimise our scheduling and reimburse operators more efficiently on the basis of actual journeys made,” says Helen. “A smart card would also provide much greater resistance against tampering and fraudulent use than a paper ticket.”

Merseytravel provides concessionary passes to 350,000 elderly and disabled customers. “We needed to upgrade our application and renewal process so it would meet the DfT’s complicated eligibility criteria,” Helen continues.

To guarantee interoperability of the card, any new solution had to be ITSO compliant - the UK technical gold standard for contactless ticketing - across all media, points of service and back office applications. Hardware, including physical barriers, card readers and validators, needed to be installed in the region’s stations and terminals to support the roll-out.

ACT has a formidable track record of designing, building and operating commercial and concessionary ITSO ticketing schemes – more than any other company in the UK – facilitating millions of transactions daily. “We had already been successfully using the ACT HOPS travel transaction processing engine and Customer Management System (CMS) for a number of years. We awarded the entire programme to ACT because of their breadth of technical disciplines, enterprise strength products, credibility and exemplary service and support,” says Helen.


The ACT solution at a glance

Hosted ACT HOPS travel transaction processing engine

Hosted ACT Customer Management System (CMS)

Back-office integration of third party interfaces

Smart card production management

Ongoing operational support

All provided as a managed service

Laying the foundations for a revolution

As an experienced systems integrator, ACT translated Merseytravel’s diverse requirements into an ITSO-compliant turnkey solution. ACT worked closely with Merseytravel stakeholders to deliver the ambitious project, including card production, installation of scheme-specific hardware across the transport network, and integration with back office architecture. “Our staff have been fully trained to ensure we continue to adhere to best practice, while ACT provides ongoing operation of the scheme and comprehensive technical support as an affordable managed service,” says Helen.

ACT achieved the migration of 350,000 records within a strict 12-week deadline, incurring the absolute minimum of operational downtime. “That’s no mean feat since the travel shops are open seven days a week,” Helen observes. The CMS was upgraded to manage entitlements for the free travel passes and to incorporate specific Merseytravel concessionary business rules.

This was integrated with the ACT HOPS to enable management of the scheme and day-today transport operations, plus communication with outlying devices. For the first time, passenger journeys are being captured at a transactional level across all modes of transport. Once a representative volume of data has been accumulated, it will be analysed to support future decision-making.

Benefits for Merseytravel and passengers alike

The initial roll-out has made the issuing of concessionary passes far more efficient, with front-of-house staff able to process walk-in applications immediately. The new system is also fully auditable to satisfy the DfT’s eligibility requirements. The ACT back-office systems will enable Merseytravel to start analysing journey patterns, such as when people are travelling and how far, and using this intelligence to plan routes and timetables more effectively. Helen explains: “This insight will help us to optimise services around passenger demand and carry out much more targeted marketing activity. We hope this will encourage people to increase their use of public transport, which will benefit the environment.”

As the ACT platform is ITSO-compliant, the scheme will continue to evolve, as Helen illustrates: “When a card is about to expire, a letter is now automatically generated, inviting the customers to renew over the phone or by coming into a travel shop. In the coming months, we will be able to support online renewals, too. This will be more cost effective for us than issuing cards via the travel shops, and will help to reduce our overheads. It is also beneficial for the elderly and disabled, because public transport is a lifeline for them.” A further upgrade in the form of ACT’s innovative settlement engine will improve future operational efficiency, helping to make the administration of payments to transport operators less labour intensive.

The smart card will soon encompass a commercial scheme with multiple ticket variants, including single, return, child, student, weekly and season tickets. In the future, Merseytravel is keen to use the solution to fulfil its aspirations for visitor ticketing and a loyalty scheme. The ACT platform offers the potential to incorporate additional routes and modes of transport, and even lays the foundations for mobile technology to supplement or ultimately replace the smart card altogether. “Although it’s early days, we can already see how ACT’s development roadmap can help us realise our vision,” says Helen.

A welcome change for the region

What would Helen advise other regional transport authorities considering a similar scheme? “This has been a very ambitious project, but we’ve met the challenges by having the right approach, applications and infrastructure from the right provider. If ACT hadn’t been a part of this project, we wouldn’t have the scheme we do today. They have a great team of developers and support people who are extremely professional and enthusiastic. They’ve embraced all the changes we’ve thrown at them and have remained focused and dedicated throughout. You couldn’t pick a better organisation as your partner.”


Read other case studies

“We wanted to collect accurate data on transport usage so we could optimise our scheduling and reimburse operators more efficiently on the basis of actual journeys made.”

Key facts

350,000 records migrated to the ACT HOPS and ACT CMS, error-free and on time

11 third party supplier interfaces successfully integrated with backoffice applications

300,000 concessionary passes issued in the first six months of the scheme

120,000+ commercial smart cards forecast to be issued annually

Support for multiple types of ticket, including single, return, child, student, weekly and season tickets

“ACT provides ongoing operation of the scheme and comprehensive technical support as an affordable managed service.”
“This has been a very ambitious project. If ACT hadn’t been a part of this project, we wouldn’t have the scheme we do today. You couldn’t pick a better organisation as your partner.”