Rail users should thank bus users

As rail users finally get to ride in the new Matangi trains, the true cost of the Greater Wellington Regional Council's commitment to ''save passenger rail'' can start to be counted ... and the price is high in more ways than one.

You would have thought that after spending  hundreds of millions on new trains, track, rail extensions, signalling, power supply and to buy railway stations, the council would be telling us ''things are now fixed''.

Instead, they tell us another $236 million is needed for things like ''rail infrastructure renewal'' and ''rolling stock heavy maintenance''. And this is before the council's true cost of the decision to buy another 35 new Matangi trains is known.

The transport rates bill continues to climb to pay for all the nice new trains and track.  In 2008/09 just $13m of transport rates went on the trains; this year we pay $21m and by 2018/19 rates going to subsidise rail will be $37m.

The council does spend several million to give rail commuters cheaper fares.  Bus users can save 20 per cent using their Snapper or Mana/Newlands Cards but the rail monthly passes give a 40 per cent discount.

Wellington used to have the Gold Pass that also gave 40 per cent off to Go Wellington bus users.  But, when the council cut the bus subsidy, Go Wellington said it could not continue the Gold Pass.  It would have cost the council less than $1m a year to keep the Gold Pass but it decided to ''take the money'' and bus users lost their 40 per cent discount.

So, with the council's focus on trains, what is their support to the bus service that carries two of every three peak-time commuters?  There is $36m for the dubious benefit of keeping the 61 trolleys buses going (not improve them, just keep them going).  Apart from this, $3m is being invested in ''bus shelters and interchanges'' and $1m for bikes on buses ... that is it for the next decade.

Meanwhile, transport rates supporting buses is $18m, $2m less than in 2008/09.  By 2018/19, rates towards buses will be $21m - a minimal increase given the increase in bus patronage.

In other words, tens of millions more is being poured into trains while the service most people use - buses - is left to struggle.

And don't fares just keep going up?  Strange how paying for the new trains doesn't mean rail fares must go up, it means bus and rail fares must go up.  In fact, the largest increase (10 per cent) is for 3-Zone Cash Fare. Next year, 2-Zone fares will increase.

It is already clear that bus fares are not going up because bus costs are going up.  The council is raising bus fares to keep rail fares down.

Running down the bus service seems to be the council plan to fund its rail service.  So rail users can at least thank bus users for:

  • accepting the council's ongoing priority to buy itself new trains, track and stations instead of improving the bus service
  • accepting the apparent need for rail users to still have cheaper fares than bus users
  • accepting higher bus fares so the council can keep the rail fares down.

Is it fair that there is never any money for buses but always more for rail?  Bus fares have just gone up again, so what will the council put the extra income towards?  Saving the Capital Connection perhaps?

Tony Randle is a Johnsonville resident and public transport advocate.

The Dominion Post