A prototype bringing the equivalent of London’s Oyster card to the West Midlands has begun trials in Solihull.
Centro, the region’s transport authority, has teamed up with Rotala buses to launch the Signature card, allowing passengers to pay fares electronically for the first time.
They will also enjoy a cheaper fare compared to paying by cash.
The technology is being road-tested on Rotala’s Signature services in and around Solihull – the S2, S2A, S3, S4, 30 and 82.
Passenger feedback and the performance of the technology will be closely monitored over the coming weeks as part of an on-going evaluation.
Geoff Inskip, chief executive of Centro, said: “This is an exciting chapter in the story of smartcard technology and its introduction to the West Midlands.
“It is a massive step towards our aim of eventually rolling out Smartcard technology later this year for all bus users across the Centro region – we have already been in discussion with a number of other operators to sign up to a wider scheme.
“For the first time, fare paying passengers can do away with the need for cash and will be able to make their journey by using electronic technology, a development which takes bus travel into the 21st century.”
Ian Pollard, commercial manager of Rotala, said: “We feel the Signature card is the start of something positive for passengers in the area.
“Initially it offers passengers the opportunity to make savings against cash fares they would otherwise have paid and have the convenience of not finding relatively small amounts of cash for each journey.
“Longer term we hope it can be developed to include all operators and make a significant contribution to making ticketing in the West Midlands more passenger-friendly, enabling a wider group of bus-users to find a solution that is perfect for their requirements.”
Passengers are able to place their pass on a card reader as they board the bus, which will deduct the fare from the pre-paid sum held in its memory. A ticket is then issued in the normal manner.
The holder will pay a flat fare of £1.60, giving a cheaper and simpler alternative to paying for a single journey using cash.
The £1.60 fare is a discount offered by Rotala, whose standard fare is usually £1.90 or £1.70 for a short hop.
The Signature card is issued for free although a minimum £10 needs to be loaded on before it is used.
This can be paid for online at www.signaturebus.com/card or from Centro House in Birmingham and at Centro Travel Shops.
The card can be subsequently topped up on bus or at Centro House and Centro Travel Shops.
An auto top-up function is also available which links directly to the customer’s credit or debit card and adds £15 whenever the smart reader is presented with a balance below £2.
For customers not opting for auto top-up there will be a £2 deficit facility (£1 for the child variant) giving a ‘get-you-home’ guarantee.
The name Signature is only being used on the Solihull road-test, which started on January 9.
Mr Inskip said: “This scheme will transform bus travel for many, many people so it is important we take it one step at a time and ensure we get it right.
“It has been a complex project, we have had to identify and implement the necessary technology to get where we are today but we are confident this trial will be a milestone in the journey to a successful Smartcard.”