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Somerset county council is to introduce smartcard electronic ticket reading machines for bus passengers with free passes issued by the authority.

The implementation will cover people are eligible for the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), run by the Department for Transport in conjunction with local authorities.

Somerset said it hopes the new technology will help to speed up boarding times, as drivers will no longer have to issue paper tickets and journeys will be logged electronically. Microchips already inside cards for the ENCTS will allow pass holders to scan their cards when they get on the bus.

A spokeswoman for the council told GGC that by Christmas bus operators First and Stagecoach will go live with the new readers, with 11 smaller operators following early in the new year. She said that "some very small companies" did not want to participate in the project.

She also disclosed that a pre-payment facility for passengers outside of ENCTS will be available eventually, but a timescale has not yet been set for this.

Somerset was among councils in the south west which secured £640,000 to bring smartcard technology to small and medium operators in the region. Its share of the grant totals £184,000 and it has contributed £80,000 itself. Bus companies have also made an investment.

"The introduction of smartcard technology is a development that I'm very pleased to see on Somerset buses," said Harvey Siggs, cabinet member for highways. "The greatest benefit for passengers will be in the reduced time taken to board. Somerset county council and bus companies will benefit from accurate journey statistics collected.

"Every innovation we develop together like this helps the council and the bus companies maintain an efficient and more convenient service for passengers."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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