Giving commuters in the North a raw deal is not smart

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Rail commuters are suffering a raw deal because of the slow roll-out of smart ticketing in the North, it has been claimed.

Just five stations in the region are equipped with the technology needed for smart cards similar to the Oyster system used on the London underground.

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Of the 710 stations nationwide fitted with smart card technology, new figures released by the Labour Party show that more than 600 are in the south of England.

The government has promised that new body Transport for the North (TfN) will deliver Oyster-style ticketing across the region.

Making it easier to travel between towns and cities is seen as one of the keys to delivering Chancellor George Osborne’s vision of turning the North into an economic powerhouse.

West Yorkshire MPs have called for the “parity” between the north and south of the country.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “George Osborne’s talk of a Northern Powerhouse is all rhetoric and hot air. Northern commuters are missing out whilst those in the South are seeing the benefits of smart-ticketing. The disparity between transport investment in the North and the South is a travesty.”

Mr Osborne last year charged TfN with creating a “seamless” ticketing system to make it much easier to travel in the North.

But there is no timetable for delivery and a smart ticketing scheme for the South East which was due to be in place by the end of last year is now not expected to be ready until after 2017.

Already there have been improvements to the transport network in West Yorkshire and there are future plans in the pipeline. Wakefield Kirkgate railway station opened last year after a refurbishment and the city’s Westgate railway station reopened in 2013.

Leeds railway station’s £20m South Entrance also opened last year.

And work has started on the new £10.8m station at Low Moor to improve travel links between Bradford, Halifax and Leeds. Plans have also been revealed to build a new interchange station in Halifax to improve services across Calderdale.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to delivering smart and more flexible ticketing for commuters across the country.

“In the North we are providing £150m to support Transport for the North so it can introduce smart ticketing and make travel by public transport as simple and convenient as possible. We will also continue to challenge the industry to modernise and simplify the ticketing system.”

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “Progress on smart ticketing across the North’s rail network has been woeful so far.

“The city regions and Transport for the North are committed to an ‘oystercard for the North’.

“They should take the opportunity of DfT’s wholesale failure in the South East and the new powers in the forthcoming Buses Bill to leapfrog the South-East and have a simple comprehensive smart ticketing scheme covering all transport across the North.”