OXFORD’S pioneering bus ticketing system has triggered an eight per cent surge in passenger numbers in the county, officials say.

In July 2011, the city’s two bus companies – Stagecoach and Oxford Bus Company – introduced Smartzone and began co-ordinating their timetables and ticket operations in what was the first scheme of its kind in the UK.

The £10m smartcard scheme effectively means that tickets on certain routes can be used on buses run by both companies.

Now lobby group Passenger Focus has carried out a study on how Oxford’s scheme is working – and it says that it has led to three million more people getting on the bus.

A spokesman for the group said: “Smartzone is generally acknowledged as being a successful smartcard scheme, so we have carried out a case study in order to understand the reasons for this.

“Our study of bus users in Oxford found that overall satisfaction with bus services was high both among smartcard users and those using paper tickets. Almost nine out of 10 were satisfied.”

Oxford has one of the highest levels of bus use in the UK, with around 50 per cent of all journeys in and around the city made by bus.

Statistics published by the Department for Transport show bus passenger journeys in Oxfordshire have jumped from 36.3m in 2010-11 to 39.3m in 2011-12 – an increase of more than eight per cent.

The research shows 80 per cent of smartcard holders use the bus five days a week or more compared to just 29 per cent for paper ticket users.

Of the 1,000 or so people the survey interviewed, more than half use the bus five days a week or more.

In addition, more than a quarter of smartcard holders claim to use the bus more then they did before they had a smartcard.

Martin Sutton, managing director of Stagecoach Oxfordshire, said: “Value for money and convenience are crucial to getting more people to switch from the car to greener public transport.

“It has made it easier for people to travel and helped improve the local environment in Oxford.”

The research also shows that full-time students use the smartcard most, with 66 per cent of them using it, while 85 per cent of pensioners tend to use paper tickets.

It also includes a number of improvements which Oxford’s bus passengers would like to see to the scheme, particularly the ability to use the smartcard throughout Oxfordshire and a smartcard for travel on trains as well as buses.

Phil Southall, operations director of Oxford Bus Company said: “Passenger Focus makes a number of interesting suggestions and we will look carefully at them as we plan for the future.”

Hugh Jaeger, of the Oxford branch of Bus Users UK, said: “Doesn’t it show that smartcards and the inter-operability of tickets was what passengers always wanted? Bringing in the trains would be more difficult but it can be done.”