Abstract The potential role of smart card data for travel behaviour analysis is considered. Case studies of smart card experience in Britain are examined, of the pensioner concessionary pass in Southport, Merseyside, and the commercially operated scheme in Bradford. The nature of smart card data puts an emphasis on concept definition and rules-based processing. Using smart card data, estimates may be made of card turnover rates, trip rates per card on issue, and inferences made of the proportion of linked trips. In comparison with existing data sources, much larger samples may be obtained, and behaviour analysed over much longer periods. However, there are limitations, mainly that trip length is not recorded on systems based on validating cards only on entry to a bus, and that certain types of data still require direct survey methods for their collection (such as journey purpose). Hence, a complementary role may be identified for smart card data vis a vis existing data collection methods, rather than entirely superseding them. Transport service providers should also ensure that their smart card retailing strategy does not undermine the quality of the data in the initial years of the scheme, therefore limiting its use during this period.