PASSENGERS on some Taunton bus services are being allowed to travel for free because of problems with a contactless payment system.

Those wanting to use a contactless card and unable to pay with cash have not been charged for their journeys.

Somerset Council, which operates some of the services and subsidises others, said it was ‘working tirelessly’ to resolve the county-wide issue, which started several weeks ago,

Conservative Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, who exposed the issue, said the authority was losing more than £100 a day on one route alone in the south of the county.

Nearly 30 different bus services have been affected, including the No 22B Taunton to West Buckland which operates once a week, and in Taunton the No 3 and No 12 town services to Bishops Hull and Monkton Heathfield, respectively.

Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, who exposed the contactless bus payments issue.
Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, who exposed the contactless bus payments issue. ( )

Cllr Rodrigues said: “This self-inflicted financial damage takes on a greater seriousness when we consider the stark and challenging financial situation that this council has described itself to be in.”

He has asked for the estimated weekly financial losses the council has been suffering and what ‘concrete plans and timelines’ were in place to restore contactless bus journey payments.

The council said many passengers used concessionary passes which would give them free travel anyway, and the authority was working tirelessly to resolve the issue.

The council is facing a budget black hole which has caused concern it could be the next after Birmingham to go bankrupt and has been reviewing its capital spending and its day-to-day expenditure on services for children and vulnerable adults which it is required by law to provide.

Executive Cllr Mike Rigby said the contactless issue affected all bus routes run directly by the council and several subsidised services operated by contractors.

Cllr Rigby said he could not give a figure for the losses because nobody was counting how many passengers were being allowed to travel for free.

He said: “A decision was made that due to the technical difficulties which we are working tirelessly to try and resolve, we would allow passengers who were unable to pay with cash to travel for free, rather than leaving potentially vulnerable passengers stranded.

“Passengers are advised that they can travel for free on this occasion but need to ensure they bring cash payment for their next journey.

“Many of the passengers travelling on the routes identified will be concessionary pass holders and therefore, travelling for free. These journeys will all be recorded.

“Officers have been trying to resolve this issue for quite some time, which has proved extremely challenging.

“We are restricted to using one payment provider for this purpose and have encountered numerous barriers that we have had to overcome, due to the number of parties involved.

“We are now at a stage where the payment provider and ticket machine provider have finally reached agreement, with SMART Applications Management (SAM) acting as the managing agent for the agreement.

“We are still awaiting final confirmation of when the contactless payments can go-live and continue to chase on an almost daily basis.”