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FirstGroup takes contactless ticketing outside London

New £27m system to accept contactless debit and credit cards, as well as mobile payments

FirstGroup, the largest bus and rail operator in the UK, is planning to invest in contactless ticketing technology for its buses in England.

The system, which is similar to Transport for London's Oyster Card, will be installed on FirstGroup's 5,000 buses as the company aims to become the first bus operator outside the capital to offer the technology that enables passengers to pay by 'touching in and touching out' their bank cards.

In addition, the new system will also be able to accept payments made by touching a mobile phone to the reader, when the necessary technology becomes more available in mobile phones.

FirstGroup is investing £27 million in the technology, and will work with Almex, part of Hoeft & Wessel Group, who won the £18 million contract to supply the ticket machines.

It will implement Almex's Optima BL machine, which will be able to read contactless debit or credit cards and smartcards approved by ITSO, a government-backed non-profit organisation that sets a common technical standard for 'smart' cards used for transport as well as council services.

The remainder of the investment will be spent on design, build and testing, infrastructure including hardware and software, and the development and integration of a web portal and online call centre to support the service.

The new machines will be rolled out across major cities in England, including Manchester, Leeds and Southampton, from the autumn, and will initially allow customers with an ITSO smartcard to touch in. Contactless bank cards will be accepted from 2012.

Giles Fearnley, managing director of FirstGroup's UK bus division, said: "We strongly believe that simplifying bus travel and introducing a maximum capped daily fare will strongly support our passenger growth plans."

Norman Baker, parliamentary under secretary of state for transport, added: "This announcement means that ITSO tickets, such as the 10 million concessionary bus passes in circulation, will be read smartly on First's buses. It also means that passengers will have more choice in how they pay for travel on First buses."

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