A £20 million scheme to introduce a smart card which promises to speed up bus, tram and rail travel in Birmingham has been delayed for up to a year after software was rushed through tests with faults.
The swipe card will eventually allow passengers to pay fares by swiping a chip over an electronic reader in the same way that London’s Oyster system operates.
Regional transport body Centro was due to roll out cards to all commuters this summer but have been forced to upgrade the system following a series of glitches.
Public transport campaigners said the failure is a result of failing to learn from other cities and said Centro should be encouraging more people on the network.
All concessionary passengers have been using the cards since early 2010 but have often found that the system failed to read their card or needed repeated swipes.
In some cases, drivers simply covered their readers to stop queues forming and waved passengers on board.
Centro chairman Coun Angus Adams said lessons had been learned and a second version of the software was now being tested.
He said he would not put a date on the commercial availability for the next phase of Smartcard.
Trials are expected to start later this year on a version of the card which will allow passengers on the bus and tram network to top up their accounts and travel without cash.
“It’s fair to say there were issues with the transaction times or the readers not working in a small number of cases,” said Coun Adam (Con Dudley).
“There are lessons that need to be learned about the testing procedure and new version of the software will undergo a much more robust examination.
“The signs are that it is performing well but I don’t want to make any predictions about when it will be ready.
“It’s absolutely crucial that we get it right because the last thing we can afford is a lack of confidence in such an important project.”
Centro has developed the system with a £20 million grant from the Department for Transport.
It is hoped that every passenger in the region will be able to board buses without searching for change or showing a printed pass to speed up bus travel.
Coun Adams revealed that Centro was looking at emerging technology which could see chips embedded in mobile phones or commuters paying for fares using contactless debit cards.
“Technology is constantly evolving and we need to make sure that we don’t get left behind,” he said.
“We are spending public money on this and it has got to be the absolute best product that we can deliver.
“We will be speaking to our counterparts in London and looking at some of the things they are developing to see if it’s something that we can learn from.”
Coun Adams also revealed that Centro was close to purchasing handheld card readers that will mean that the Smartcard system can be transferred on the Midlands Metro tram route.
“Moving the system on to the Metro will be a big step forward and we are no more than a couple of weeks away from placing an order for the hand held readers that will allow that to happen,” he said.
Kevin Chapman, chairman of the West Midlands Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It beggars belief that this isn’t running yet after all the promises.
“Other cities seem to get things like this right first time but in Birmingham anything linked to technology seems to go wrong.
“It’s exactly the same situation with the real time information boards at bus stops which don’t work properly.
“Centro needs to put this right and decide if it wants to start making life easier for passengers.”