If only we could think big

David Wilde believes Cardiff has missed an opportunity to create something much more flexible and useful than its bus fare payment card

Technological innovations can enrich our day to day lives hugely so there is an inevitable sense of frustration whenever poor implementation of a good system is apparent. I do not want to be one of those people that uses the pages of the internet to moan but I have got a real bee in my bonnet over the Cardiff Iff card.

Ten years ago when I moved to Cardiff from London I noticed two things that were different when using the buses. Firstly, people thanked the driver. This was a wonderful breath of fresh air and to this day I make a point of saying “Cheers, drive’” whenever I take a trip on a Cardiff bus. The second thing I noticed was that the drivers did not give change. This struck me as archaic and has been greatly frustrating on those occasions when I have found myself having to overpay by 50p or more.

I was, therefore, encouraged by Cardiff’s new iff card scheme – a more convenient way of paying for the bus – had arrived. Yet, its implementation has disappointed and it does not compare favourably with the Oyster card scheme launched in London in June 2003. Londoners have really warmed to the Transport for  London scheme which enables passengers to pay for travel across the capital’s rail and bus transport network at much lower cost than buying tickets individually, and is being extended to cover purchase of other small items as well. Indeed, they have become as much a part of London as the Houses of Parliament and black taxi cabs.

Cardiff Bus, which launched its own scheme at the beginning of October this year, is hoping that 30,000 people will sign up for the electronic cards, which are rechargeable and can be used to pay for everything from £1.50 singles to season tickets. To draw in customers it is offering £3 of credit for free on every card and it will allow users to go up to £3 into the red so they are not left stranded if they run out of credit.

The card uses technology developed by ITSO, a non-profit distributing organisation, with membership covering the breadth of the transport arena, including operators (both bus and train), suppliers to the industry, local authorities and public transport executives. The organisation evolved from the initiative of various UK Passenger Transport Authorities which were concerned with the lack of standards for interoperable smartcard ticketing

So why are Cardiff Bus’s iff cards so disappointing. The form requiring the applicant to fill in name, address, date of birth and mother’s maiden name is unsecured. Although they don’t take payment, not securing this page doesn’t inspire confidence when sending these details. Secondly, it is not possible to top up online. The only ways to top up are in the head office or on the bus. It is only a marginal improvement compared with the lack of change at best. Finally, I am not keen on the oh-so-clever but frankly uninspiring name ‘iff card’, supposedly a play on the words Card and Iff.

Why can we not think bigger and better? I would like to see the cards linking up with London’s Oyster cards. These work, they are secure and they are respected. Business coming from London would see Cardiff as progressive and forward thinking. Could the cards not be used on bus services all across Wales?  It would be great to get more cities in Wales working together and a smart card could help to encourage this.

Finally the ultimate use for a Welsh Oyster card giving a boost to business in Wales would be for it to be accepted as a way of paying  to cross the Severn bridge, which itself has lagged for many years behind the times in payment options.

David Wilde is a freelance writer

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