JOINT ticketing on Oxford’s two main bus operators has moved a step closer after the introduction of an Oyster card-style smartcard for Stagecoach services.

The bus operator has fitted hi-tech electronic card readers on its fleet of 160 buses in Oxfordshire, paving the way for joint ticketing system with the Oxford Bus Company next year.

Passengers have been able to sign up for the new StagecoachSmart smartcards since Thursday. But they can only be used from Monday.

To travel with the cards passengers simply hold it over a reader when they board the bus and their journey is then registered.

The card holder buys a cash amount for the card and the cost of journeys are deducted as they are taken.

Stagecoach spokesman Chris Child said: “We know that value for money and convenience are vital if we are to encourage more people to switch from the car to our greener, smarter bus services.

“StagecoachSmart is a major step towards the introduction of co-ordinated timetables and multi-operator smartcard ticketing.”

The new system comes after the firm won a Government grant and invested £7.5m in 26 hybrid electric and diesel double-decker buses.

Three years ago the Oxford Bus Company introduced its first smartcard system called ‘The Key’.

It will launch a new version of the smartcard to be compatible with the joint ticketing hardware in the coming weeks.

Hugh Jaeger, the chairman of Bus Users UK in Oxford, said: “This is something we have all been looking forward to ever since Oxford Bus Company introduced such a system .

“By investing in new smart cards on top of having invested in new hybrid buses shows that Stagecoach’s commitment to Oxford is fantastic.

“This is the step that everybody’s been waiting to bring us closer to joint ticketing and joint timetabling.”

To register for a smartcard, go to the website or call 01865 772250.

Once registered, passengers can top up the smartcards online, on a bus or at Gloucester Green bus station.