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Smart and integrated ticketing in Scotland: New delivery strategy [free access]

December 1, 2018

Transport ticketing is at an advanced stage in Scotland, with modern fare media such as contactless smartcards and mobile ticketing deployed on public buses and rail-based transport systems. These systems together constitute more than 98 per cent of the total public transport ridership. Further, the adoption of contactless smartcards is high with more than 50 per cent of the total public transport passengers using full-fare smartcards or National Concessionary Travel Scheme (NCTS) smartcards.


Transport Scotland’s 2018 delivery strategy for smart and integrated ticketing focuses on introducing a contactless ticketing system on ferries and enhancing the existing ticketing system on buses and rail-based public transportation system.


Current scenario


The dominant mode of public transport is public buses, with a modal share of 75 per cent. It is followed by commuter rail and metro rail. Addressing bus ticketing is a critical component of the national ticketing strategy.


Public buses


Currently, 170 companies operate public bus services and deploy a fleet of 4,000 buses, of which 91 per cent are equipped with Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation (ITSO) standard smartcard readers. Box 1 provides information about the ITSO standard.


Box 1: ITSO standard

ITSO is a not-for-profit organisation that oversees technical, standardisation and interoperable smart ticketing services in the UK. It maintains and develops the ITSO standard for transport smartcards.


The ITSO standard is a technical platform on which interoperable smart ticketing and e-wallet schemes can be built. It is a nationwide standard adopted by transport operators and industry suppliers. 

 Source: Global Mass Transit Research


The major public bus operators in the Scotland, including First Group, Stagecoach, Scottish Citylink and McGill’s, accept contactless bank cards and NFC-enabled mobile phones for fare collection.


Passenger rail


Netherlands-based Abellio operates the passenger rail network ScotRail under a seven-year contract secured in August 2015. All passenger rail stations are equipped with smartcard validators that accept only contactless smartcards. The ticket vending machines (TVMs) and ticket offices accept contactless bank cards. The ticketing system of ScotRail is integrated with that of the Glasgow Subway.


Abellio is mandated to increase the modal share of smartcards to 60 per cent by April 2019 from 9 per cent currently.


Urban rail


Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Tram, the two urban rail systems in the country, accept contactless smartcards as fare media. None of them accepts contactless bank cards as fare media yet.




The ferries use only paper tickets. Transport Scotland and a ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne are conducting a pilot of ITSO contactless smartcards.


Future plans


The ticketing strategy of Transport for Scotland aims to achieve deployment of at least one type of contactless fare media on each public transport mode and enhancement of the existing fare systems.


Contactless bank cards: Transport Scotland plans to deploy contactless bank cards for fare payment on the entire public bus network by 2024.


The national government has launched a GBP1.1-million Smart Pay Grant Fund to provide assistance to small bus operators upgrading ticketing infrastructure. Of the total amount, GBP440,000 is provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Low Carbon Travel and Transport (LTT) Programme and GBP660,000 is provided by the national government. The grant is available for bus operators with an annual turnover of less than GBP44.5 million.


Account-based ticketing (ABT): ScotRail had announced plans to conduct an ABT pilot in 2018, but the pilot has not yet started and no further updates are available. Transport Scotland will evaluate the results of the pilot to decide on the strategy for ABT deployment.


Further, Transport Scotland has awarded a contract to Scotland-based PDMS to upgrade the transport administration’s back office so that it can support the ABT system.


NFC-based mobile ticketing: Transport Scotland plans to first conduct a pilot and then evaluate the deployment strategy of NFC-based mobile ticketing. In July 2018, US-based Rambus started the pilot of NFC-based mobile ticketing with ScotRail.


Achieve interoperability: The ticketing system of various bus companies operating across Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dundee are integrated with one another. Transport Scotland plans to gradually expand multi-modal and multi-operator ticketing integration to other cities.  


Evolving customer expectations: driver for smart ticketing


In end-2017, Transport Scotland conducted a public consultation to gather feedback from public and transport operators on the impact of smart and integrated ticketing on public transport usage. The consultation received 98 responses from the public and 50 from the transport organisations. The highlights of the results of the consultation include the following:





Transport Scotland may face the following issues and challenges in achieving the smart ticketing goal.





Transport Scotland is seeking to make a good system better. The country is small and it is possible to implement nationwide smart ticketing or standardised smartcards for integrated public transport systems without much difficulty. The government has prepared the strategy and is cautiously implementing new systems by undertaking pilots first. This is expected to ensure that the transition is smooth for all stakeholders.