HmmM Card


James Blythman and his insightful views on West Yorkshire travel have returned this 2014 – this time on the introduction of Metro’s new payment system.

It feels strange. The 1st January 2014 was the first day in 3 years that I haven’t been a Metro West Yorkshire customer. Now I am just a ticket.

I signed up for a Metro pass 3 years ago due to the location of my new employer and because I couldn’t drive! My new commute required train and bus travel so a Metro zonal pass was what I required.

I knew about Metro passes as an old housemate previously used one. Finding out what pass I needed was easy enough by using their website. So off I popped to Leeds bus station to get my pass.

It consisted of two parts: A photo card element with my customer reference and my postcode and a ticket which highlighted the expiry date and what zones it covered. Each month I would get a new ticket. My photocard remained constant, it was just the ticket that changed. I soon learnt it best to renew it in a train station as their tickets worked in ticket barriers.

This continued for some time. My photocard being the one constant. I inadvertently became a bit of a walking advert for Metro eulogising about how everyone should have one of these cards. “We should have Oyster Cards like they do in London”, I would say. Arguments started with the wife on what modes of transport we should use to get to town in our leisure time. Annoyingly, a stay of less than 3 hours was cheaper by car than for the wife to get a day rider on the bus (We really need return tickets brought back!).

As time rolled on, the company I work for decided to join the corporate Metro card scheme. For me this meant a 15% reduction in the cost of an annual pass (on top of an annual pass being cheaper than the monthly pass too). My photocard remained constant, the ticket changed.

Now Metro are rolling out their equivalent to the Oyster Card – The M Card (which sounds like Dame Judi’s personalised Morrisons loyalty card). It was rolled out with senior citizens last year and now, amongst others, it has been rolled out to annual pass holders.

So why do I view myself as a ticket holder and no longer a customer? The new smart card combines both elements of the old system – the photocard and the ticket. There were two ways of skinning this cat:

1. Providing a photocard with the ticket information loaded onto the card.
2. As above but with the ticket information actually printed on the card too.

The benefit of the former is that the pass holder retains the card with new ticket data loaded to it as required. This negates the cost of reissuing new cards when the ticket expires or a different pass is required. Like with the old system someone can become a lapsed customer, but has the ability to quickly re-engage when required.

It creates a sense of membership which can manifest itself into a walking, talking brand ambassador. This could be a zero cost, trusted marketing source to support the take-up of the pay as you go cards when they are introduced.

Anyway, Metro pursued option 2.

Where previously they issued me with a new piece of card with ticket information on each year, they now have to produce a whole new plastic card.

“But the new technology isn’t all about fancy looking cards?”

It can help track journeys too to help the Authority understand what methods of transport people are using to get from A to B. Except, there is no compulsion to actually scan your card on bus journeys. The very useful leaflet that accompanied the new card explained it’s at the bus drivers discretion.

“If Metro know where you live and where you work then it shouldn’t matter?”

Partly true but surely they’d like to know where I am travelling and there are often a few ways of getting from A to B – my return journey has at least 8 route permutations. If you ever use public transport you may have come across the researchers asking where you got on the bus or train and where you are getting off. It’s been a while since I met one. I asked him why they only ever ask where I’m going to on this leg of my journey, not where I’ve come from and where I’m going. He replied that wasn’t what the companies were asked to collect. He also told me their jobs were being phased out because the new smart cards would capture the information they collected. However, at present the public transport network isn’t fully ready for smart cards. You can still walk onto trains in most areas without a ticket. I guess this will change in time.

“Aren’t London are planning to dispense with Oyster Cards?”

True. In 2012, Transport for London began accepting payment from contactless banking cards, which in the long term sort of means that producing their own contactless card is a bit of a waste of money.

The Oyster Card has been a resounding success in London. Will the M Card have the same success in West Yorkshire? Well, it’s like comparing apples with oranges as the transport networks, levels of investment, existing transport usage, and geography are totally different.

Part of what Metro require is an effective relationship marketing strategy, building on their existing customer base to sell the benefits of this new technology.

As a long term customer I feel a bit disengaged.


  1. Hi. This is going to take a bit of explaining and it might be a bit dull, but I promise it will be true… I work for Metro and a lot of my job is bringing this stuff in effectively.

    Oyster took 12 years or so to get to where it is. We’re trying to do what they did in 3 or 4 so it’ll look odd for a while but it’s because we’re in a bit of a transition period.

    Yes you are absolutely right that the ideal is where each individual has a card that is unique to them and that they put on that card whatever ticket they happen to want, that works for what they need.

    In the shortish term though, we need tickets that can both be read by smart ticket machines but can also be looked at by real bus drivers and rail conductors until such a point as all the techy kit is working.

    Whether the ticket machine is used/working is not at the driver’s discretion, it depends on whether that particular bus has a working ticket machine. We have loads of bus companies in West Yorkshire and some are way ahead of the game and others… aren’t. And these latter account for a quite a big number of the buses out there so we’ll need a dual system for a little while yet.

    The other odd fact is that Metro don’t own MetroCards. They are controlled by the bus and rail operators and Metro just administer it. Metro and the operators are in this programme together though and we’re trying to work together to bring in a fully smart system as soon as poss. The technology is challenging though and as you say changing all the time (shall we go for NFC phone apps or not for instance). And we are agreed that whatever we bring in, we have to be pretty clear how we respond if it doesn’t go to plan and that all our front line staff are geared up to help customers.

    The possibilities are great in terms of bringing in ticket products that customers want. Incidentally but importantly the next product to be introduced is the replacement weekly and monthly MetroCards which will be transferable / no PhotoCard so potentially shared by more than one person.

    And whilst yes there is a large amount of useful data potentially available, this brings some interesting issues around data protection… do you really want anyone to know exactly where you’ve been traveling for the last year? We’ve taken a very cautious approach to this so far.

    So do you fancy coming and talking to us some time, meeting the team and maybe doing a follow up blog? It’s not easy so we really welcome feedback on how to make it better.

  2. Hi Ali. Thanks for taking the time to provide such a full and frank reply (and sorry for taking so long to come back).

    I do probably have too much time on my commute to think about these things(!) Well, that and working in Marketing too.

    It is interesting to hear about the challenges of introducing the new cards and the peculiarities of who owns what in the transport system.

    I have an email I need to reply to in my inbox, from a man with an infatuation with seats, who wants to facilitate a catch up.

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