Zehra Chudry asked Michael Leach, CEO of ITSO, about the evolving role of the national interoperable ticketing standard.

So Michael, you’ve been CEO at ITSO for nearly two years now, how have things changed in that time?

Michael Leach:
I think there have been some really big changes. I think the most fundamental one is that its gone from being a concept which was only really used for concessionary travel into one which has been embraced by the big five bus operators. We’re starting to see it now used in far more commercial travel schemes and we’re starting to now see the concept of interoperability where people are now able to use their cards on multiple operators in the same location – for example, in Oxford – become reality as opposed to an ideal.

You mentioned Oxford as one example, but how widespread are ITSO schemes in the UK now, and are they mainly for the national concessionary travel scheme?
ML: I think the concessionary travel scheme for many has been the base and the Department for Transport have encouraged that as an avenue for people to think about smart ticketing. We know in Scotland and Wales the driver there was the roll out across all of the operators so they would have consistent concessionary travel capability, and that’s been extremely successful in Scotland where they have been able to reduce fraud on concessionary travel by a considerable amount.

What we’re now seeing is a number of operators looking to exploit the commercial nature of smart ticketing as TfL did with Oyster in London, and that’s becoming much more widespread. So we’ve gone from having no commercial schemes when I joined the company and there are now 17 in operation.

Of the big five groups certainly Stagecoach and Go Ahead are pushing ahead with more and more each coming month … and the likes of Arriva and FirstGroup and National Express are currently working on their plans.

Following on from your work with the big five groups, how far forward is ITSO in helping transport authorities and operators achieve that level of inter-operability and integration?
ML: I think the great thing is that it’s moved away from things that ITSO Limited has to do to operators taking the lead and there’s been some fantastic work, particularly in Oxford and Cambridge, but also in Wales between Newport, in Gwent, and Cardiff, where they’re starting to really think about getting together from a local authority perspective and an operator perspective to get that synergy. For me that’s one of the biggest changes.

So what we’ve seen is it go beyond being needed to be driven by an organisation like ITSO or be forced onto people by the government. We’re seeing local authorities and operators really beginning to work in partnership. The technology allows you to do it, which is the great thing, but the biggest change has been that operators have started that connection with local authorities and passengers are now reaping the benefits.

What is happening about ITSO compliant smartcards being valid in London?

ML: Well the great thing again there is that the Department [for Transport] have worked very closely with Transport for London about making the London estate, which currently accepts Oyster, ITSO compatible. The lots of work going on at the moment and the delivery date for that is 2013. There is lots of work going on to try and bring bits of that further forward but we recognise that with the Olympics coming up and other pieces we can’t disrupt the existing environment. ITSO will be working in London definitely by 2014 and that will make it fit very nicely with some of the rail franchises that will be let in the next 24 months that feed into London as well. So it’s definitely happening – it’s a bit slower than many people would like but that’s the way with technology if you want to de-risk it.

Do you believe that ITSO is still valid in today’s market given some of the other perhaps simpler IT solutions that are around, like EMV, barcodes and mobile ticketing?

ML: I think the critical think is that there is room for lots of ways of doing it. I think anyone who assumes that there is going to be one [solution] or another is perhaps missing the point. What my task has been within ITSO is to understand how we meet the needs of the operating community, [and] how we meet the needs through the operating community, therefore, of the public. So we’ve been talking to operators about how we introduce 2D barcodes into the ITSO environment and how we use the ITSO security to support that. And we’re also quite advanced in discussions with a number of operators about how to use ITSO in the same way that EMV will work, which is run as a token rather than a smartcard.

So I think there is compatibility for all of them. But we’ve got to remember though that not everybody has a bankcard, and not everybody will ever be eligible for a bank card unless they go and get a pre-paid version that is not desirable for everyone. And if you think about the bus community, the Department for Transport’s own statistics state that 40% of all bus use is undertaken by those in the lowest 20% of populace in terms of socio-economic environment. If we look at that core of people, there are about 20% of populace of the UK who are not eligible for a bank account. Those numbers probably equate so we’ve got to remember that we have to cater in the smart ticketing environment to make sure that anybody who wants to get on a bus or rail service actually can.

What we’ve got to do is work out how we work with the likes of the EMV-type solutions and with barcodes so that there is only one back office rather than multiples and that way we can bring the cost down whilst offering choice to the customer, and that’s part of our focus.

How will ITSO change and develop in the future?
ML: A lot of that is in the hands of our members actually. We’ve had some recent engagement and workshops about it. One of the things we’re looking at doing is making sure that what we do is actually what’s required and part of that is recognising that as a member-owned company, as ITSO is, … it’s our job to respond to the needs of our members. I think the evolution is going to be about how to help people exploit it at a lower cost. What we want really, put quite plainly, is for it to be easier, for it to be simpler and ultimately for it to be cheaper to run and operate.

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