The National Audit Office has today published the findings from its investigation into the Department for Transport’s (the Department’s) progress in implementing the South East Flexible Ticketing Programme (the Programme). In January 2012, the Department set up the Programme to improve coordination, speed up delivery and increase take up of smart ticketing. The Department was the sponsor and funder of the Programme; and the Rail Delivery Group, which represents and coordinates the interests of passenger and freight operators, was the primary delivery agent working with train operating companies to develop and roll out the necessary infrastructure.
The Department has paused and reconsidered its approach to the Programme, and changed its scope and objectives on a number of occasions. In April 2017 the Department transferred day to day management of the Programme’s technology and assets to the Rail Delivery Group.
The key findings of the investigation are as follows:
- In 2011, the Department concluded it needed to intervene to accelerate the implementation of smart ticketing schemes because progress by train operating companies to implement such schemes was slow and take up low. The Department decided to initiate the Programme to provide a more coordinated delivery approach and provide funding for the infrastructure and the development of a central back office system to process ticket purchases and journeys using smartcards.
- The Department has not delivered the original ambition of the Programme as set out in 2012, which was to improve the experience for passengers and reduce costs to train operating companies of selling tickets. An original aim, when the Department established the Programme in 2012, was to have flexible ticketing including discounted, part time season tickets to passengers in place on 11 franchises running services into London by 2014. By April 2017, the Programme has enabled 5 of the 11 train operating companies running services into London to offer season tickets on smartcards. Only one of the 5 train operating companies currently offers flexible, part time season tickets.
- The Department has now completed the Programme based on the reduced scope agreed in 2016. It has handed over responsibility for managing the central back office, which processes rail journeys by passengers using smartcards to the Rail Delivery Group. The central back office can now be used by other train operating companies, to operate their own smart ticketing schemes, and to process a wider range of ticket and fare types. The Rail Delivery Group has estimated that the central back office is currently using around 5% of its capacity and can handle more smart ticketing schemes. The Rail Delivery Group is promoting the capability of the central back office system to train operating companies across the country. By March 2017, two franchises outside the south-east of England are using the central back office.
- The Department had assumed high levels of take up of smart ticketing. Achieving the economic benefits of smart ticketing stated in the 2014 business case depended on eventually achieving 95% of take-up of smart season tickets The Department’s latest data shows that 8% of all season ticket sales in the 12 months up to March 2017 on participating train operating companies were on smartcards. The Department attributes low levels of take-up to early problems with passenger experience and lack of promotional and marketing activity.
- The Department has spent £54 million on the Programme, compared to the original budget of £45 million. This was spent on developing a central back office to facilitate smart ticketing systems, installing or upgrading infrastructure such as ticket validators, ticket barriers and ticket vending machines, with £26 million (44%) spent on the Department and Rail Delivery Group’s management of the delivery of the programme.
- In total, the Department has spent at least £120 million to achieve the current level of smart and flexible ticketing on the national rail network in the south east of England. The £54 million spent on the Programme builds on previous departmental expenditure. Before the Programme was initiated, the Department agreed to provide £60 million to Transport for London (TfL) to upgrade its ticket gates and back office systems to read train operating companies’ smartcards, so that passengers could use smartcards provided by these operators at stations operated by TfL. This upgrade cost £66 million on completion in 2014 following changes to the scope of the work.
- In April 2016 the Department estimated that it would cost a total of £96 million including the £54 million already spent on the Programme, to deliver the full scope as set out in the 2014 business case. To deliver its original objectives for smart ticketing in the south east of England, such as providing part-time season tickets, the Department would need to either pay for the additional ticket barriers and validators needed to support smart tickets for more flexible fares, itself, or require train operating companies to do so through franchise agreements.
- Early in the Programme the Department identified concerns about the feasibility of the timetable and the Programme team’s capacity to deliver the Programme. In 2013, the Department commissioned consultants to carry out a review of the Programme which found that the Rail Delivery Group had too few people managing the programme, which meant that timetables would have to be extended.
- The Programme was paused three times and reset twice, and each time the scope was reduced and the budget revised. It was first paused in December 2012, when train operating companies disagreed with proposals for the central back office and following concerns raised by the consultants’ 2013 review the Department reset the Programme and increased its budget to £80 million, largely to cover the cost of increased programme management capability. In April 2016, the Department reset the Programme again, with £61 million to deliver a substantially reduced scope, following a ministerial decision that the rail industry should take the lead in innovating smart ticketing solutions.
20 April 2017
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Notes for editors
- The NAO conducts investigations to establish the underlying facts in circumstances where concerns have been raised with us, or in response to intelligence that we have gathered through our wider work.
- Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website.
- Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.21 billion in 2015.