Digital transactions now dominant way to pay for journeys on Go-Ahead buses

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Three quarters of passengers now pay digitally when they board Go-Ahead’s regional buses – with an increasing number tapping on and tapping off when they make a journey.

According to the operator, instead of cash, customers are adopting bank cards, smart watches, phones and smart cards to pay for their journeys. As well as being simpler and easier for customers, the shift can reduce dwell time by up to three minutes at busy bus stops.

Go-Ahead said the proportion of cash payments has dropped from 53% in August 2018 to 23% this month. The figures exclude London buses, which stopped taking cash altogether in 2014, but include services at Go-Ahead’s nine regional bus companies across England, which run nearly 3,000 buses.

The shift has accelerated in 2020 and 2021 as the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a shift away from cash across the economy. According to UK Finance, cash payments UK-wide dropped by 35% in 2020, having previously been falling by 15% annually.

Go-Ahead was one of the first bus operators to roll out contactless payments across its entire bus fleet. Under a further modernisation, Go-Ahead is introducing ‘tap-on, tap-off’ technology under which passengers tap their cards at the beginning and end of their journey and are automatically charged the correct fare. Payments are capped at a daily limit, meaning that people who take multiple bus journeys in a day will not be overcharged.

The number of tap-on, tap-off transactions topped five million this month at Go-Ahead’s bus fleets in Brighton and Hove, Crawley, Southampton, the Isle of Wight and Gateshead. Currently covering 30% of Go-Ahead’s buses outside of London, the company said it aims to have 60% of buses installed with tap-on, tap-off technology by the end of September 2021.

Mark Anderson, commercial director, Go-Ahead, said: “While digital payments have been increasing in popularity for years, the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a tipping point.

“New technology is helping us to speed up bus journeys by cutting crucial seconds and minutes off dwell times at stops. And installation of tap-on, tap-off technology will take that further by automatically calculating the fare for any journey.”

Go-Ahead said it is seeking to establish more ‘multi-operator ticketing’ with other bus companies – where customers can pay a set price to travel, even if they use multiple different operators. The first smart trial will launch next spring in the Bournemouth-Christchurch-Poole area with Yellow Buses.

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