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

9 thoughts on “If only we could think big

  1. A very good point. Why is the new card restricted to Cardiff buses when we have a South East Wales Transport Alliance, which published a regional transport plan in December 2008 which envisaged the investment of £350m over five years with the aim, among other things, of “improving regional connectivity, integration, information and ticketing”. Why is such a major development not done on a regional basis?

  2. I agree that they’ve really missed a load of opportunities with the Iff card, particularly the frankly stupid mistakes of having an unsecured form, only allowing cash top-ups, etc (and that HIDEOUS name!)

    Unfortunately there are, as I understand, a number of barriers in their way. Firstly Cardiff Bus are an independent company so in order to link up with others across Wales there would have to be some financial incentive or similar for the other companies and I imagine it’s quite difficult to agree on the running of things like that.

    The online top-up would also be ideal, as would street-based top up machines like the Oyster ones in London. Once again, though, as a private company Cardiff Bus can’t just go sticking machines on the streets, and with online Oyster top-ups these must be validated at a tube station before they can be used on a bus. Apparently this is to do with the wireless tech buses would require to validate the top-up. I’m guessing that’s why Cardiff Bus haven’t done it yet.

    Obviously the ideal system would be for WAG to create some sort of TFL-type organisation for all Wales that would sort out the shoddy valleys lines, speed them up and add Oyster-style functionality to the whole network. I’m guessing that’s a way off yet…

    I really like the title you’ve given this post – it totally captures Wales’ problem. We spend so long faffing about with small issues like bus boxes and what to do with the parking spaces on a minor road but when it comes to a big action that would take a bit more effort but improve the lives of thousands it’s just not something anybody’s prepared to take on.

  3. The card is a good start, but there are more flaws which this article doesn’t point out.

    This card has the opportunity to save tonnes of paper every year by doing away with paper tickets, but no. Whenever you top up, or even purchase a ticket with the card, it STILL gives a redundant receipt.

    Having used the card three times, the drivers don’t seem to know what to do! Have the 30,000 or so people who have subscribed for this card no intention of using it?

    Also, it’s easy to say that this card should be used in a wider area. Why not say the Oyster card should be used in Kent too. But that’s not the problem. As one the the few major UK cities without a metro or tram network, a lot must be done to make its current public transport network more accessible. This means ticket integration with for the twenty or so Valley Lines rail network stations within the city.

    Cardiff is really missing out on the opportunity for a public transport overhaul, but seems to be regressing! Firstly by knocking down half of the central bus station with no plans to build a new one. Secondly by moving bus services away from the station and creating that awful bus box. Thirdly, by messing up the implementation of a public cycle hire scheme. Those bikes are terribly tatty and unattractive, and you only need to look at French cities to see how it should be done.

    In the last 10 years, Cardiff has become one of the UK’s top tourist destinations, be it for sport, entertainment, history, shopping whatever. Therefore it is only sensible that it should have an efficient public transport network, but it seems that it is in fact worse than 10 years ago.

  4. If it remains simply as a cash card, it has only limited value in my opinion. Each day, I still have to predict how many bus journeys I’ll take that day and calculate whether or not to get a day pass. With the oyster card, you simply swipe and at the end of the day, it charges you the cheaper of a day ticket or the individual journeys.

    Secondly, we have to top up in multiples of £5, which seems somewhat ludicrous given that you’re punching numbers into a machine. I got on the bus the other day with £1 on my card and 50p in my pocket. I tried to put the 50p on the card and pay for my journey that way, but was not allowed. I did therefore make use of the iff card ‘overdraft’ facility to pay for the journey.

    I have yet to see any advantages to using the iff card over cash. Unless these problems (and the others mentioned by other people) then all the iff card will be is a very expensive alternative to bus drivers giving change. The opening paragraph to this article is spot on!

  5. Surely Cardiff Council were aware of the iff card plans for a long time. Why have they not worked with Cardiff Bus to incorporate the bike scheme, Arriva Trains Wales, the water bus (maybe even parking meters and the new Car Club) onto the card?

  6. I agree with David’s point about it’s lack of transferability. This card simply has to have the ability to use across multiple modes of transport. Did Cardiff Bus receive a grant from the Welsh Government to introduce this card? If so surely the grant should have come with condition its use is widened. Anything is just short-sighted.
    I thought I would be annoyed about not being able to top up online but then I remembered when I tried that with my Oyster card in London. Despite the fact I paid online I still had to go to an Oyster terminal to complete the transaction which seemed a little pointless to me. Topping up on the bus is a far more sensible step in my eyes, although of course you still have to have the exact amount to do so.
    I’m not keen on the name, sounds a bit iffy to me, but it is distinctive and we will get used to it.
    But it really needs to be rolled out across Wales, at the very least, in the near future.

  7. In response to the original article I feel it might be helpful if I correct some misperceptions about the Iff card, and make some further observations.

    The issue of security is one that we take seriously, and is kept under review. It will be reviewed again when we move to online payments, and it would be inappropriate to comment further on our security systems on a bulletin board.

    We will be intoducing online top ups as soon as the software has been finalised and has passed ITSO certification. We did not wish to delay the launch given uncertainty as to when this will be completed, but hope to make an announcement in the coming months.

    The name was chosen deliberately to give it a unique identity that would quickly become part of the local language – and we believe it has achieved just that. The key thing was to get the name established, and maximise awarenes of the card and what it does.

    Comparisons to Oyster will always be difficult for us. Oyster is operated by Transport for London – a publicly funded organisation that controls transport across London. It is on a totally different scale to what we have in Cardiff, and the costs reflect that. It is not ITSO compliant, and the business model is wholly different.

    The issue of a smartcard for Wales is very much a live issue, but some obstacles need to be overcome first. In respect of bus transport there is the small issue of Competition Law, Cartels and the Office of Fair Trading, which make it difficult for operators to ‘cooperate’ on ticketing issues. Secondly is the fact that bus operators across Wales operate/compete commercially and in the private sector – you cannot force co-operation. Thirdly the ITSO technology is not sufficiently developed for these wider applications, and the back office requirements for a card with multiple applications by use and by operator/provider, is still some way off being developed.

    Cardiff Bus took the view that launching as it did in October, working with what was available technologically at that time, would provide a platform with which to build. The functionality of the product will be further developed in 2011, and we are working with a number of other parties (including WAG) to see how the technology can be extended both to cover multi operator arrangements by mutual agreement, with a full move to a multi use prepayment/entitlement card in the future.

    One has to start somewhere. We see the launch of the Iff card as just the start of a new journey – and any journey has to start with a first step forward. With 33,000 applications to date, and the card already well established in use, we have surely got something right. And for those expressing disappointment that the plans were not ambitious enough, please bear in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    David Brown
    Managing Director
    Cardiff Bus

  8. Another issue with the Iff card – THEY’RE ENGLISH ONLY.

    Not an attempt to bother to provide any Welsh language version! Disgraceful.

  9. Their ordering system gave me two confirmation screens, but did not pass those details to the back system, hence I am still without my card after applying first in July. Further to that, the Cardiff Bus team applied for me through their system. They emailed me today to say I would have to go to their office on Wood St to collect a card as they have had problems with the order. In the meantime I have been to Teromsø in arctic Norway, and got a travel card, and also have been to London and have an Oyster card.

    In short, the Iff card is a bloody travesty. It’s a weak offering, as illustrated in your article, and does not offer much in the way of an improved service. Soemthing that makes this tedious 3 month wait even more frustrating. I simply ordered one online because I never have occaision to go to town, and don’t like carrying cash. Now I will have to go to town to pick it up. What a mess.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy