UK’s largest bus operator joins contactless revolution

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The UK’s largest bus operator, FirstGroup, is to spend £27 million fitting contactless card readers to its fleet of vehicles nationwide, enabling consumers to tap in and pay for fares with their bank cards.

The company says it will roll out the technology across its network of 5000 buses by 2012. The shift will hit 2.5 million commuters, and pave the way for consumers to use NFC-enabled mobile phones – as well as standard-issue debit cards – to pay for their journeys.

The FirstGroup system will comply with the Government’s ITSO specifications for smart ticketing. ITSO has been developed to create an interoperable system for contactless ticketing across the UK.

The timing of the move coincides with Transport for London’s intentions to kit out the capital’s public transport network with ‘tap & go’ card readers in time for the Olympics, which is being staged in London next year.

The London Assembly Transport Committee will tomorrow question TfL on the benefits and risks of using contactless bank cards to pay for travel. Plans to allow ITSO-compatible smartcards issued by other transport operators – such as FirstGroup and Stagecoach – to be used on the TfL system will be a central part of the review.