Bus fare increase divides councillors

A proposal to raise bus and train fares has divided regional councillors, with some claiming passengers are already paying too much.

They are now calling for a study on the social impact of the council’s fares increases, to see who is being hit the hardest and whether the rising fares are driving passengers towards cars.

The proposal, which went before Greater Wellington regional council today, would see zonal fares for smartcard and ten-trip card users increase between 4c and 35c per trip, across the board.

For single zone travellers that would mean their discount relative to cash fares would drop to 17 per cent from the standard 20 per cent.

The proposed changes would kick in on October 1.

Raising fares would be in keeping with the council's policy of introducing annual fare increases of about 3 per cent, rather than large, infrequent price hikes.

Councillor Judith Aitken said that if that was going to happen then council officers should be monitoring the social impact those increases.

‘‘What is the impact on the people? Are they in favour of the policy? Are we hurting particular demographics?’’

Greater Wellington public transport general manager Dr Wayne Hastie said previous studies suggested fare hikes lead to an initial drop in patronage but those people eventually returned. 

In terms of cost, ‘‘When you’re raising fares across the board ... as with all things, those who have less money will feel a greater impact than those with more money,’’ he said.

Councillor Prue Lamason said the social impact of fares would not mean much at the end of the day because the demands of central government, which subsides a quarter of Wellington’s public transport, meant the council had to set its farebox recovery at 55 to 60 per cent. Farebox recovery is the amount of public transport costs that is recovered through ticket sales. 

‘‘If we don’t put up fares this time around then the increase will just have to be bigger next time,’’ Ms Lamason said.

Councillor Paul Bruce said Wellington already had one of the highest farebox recovery targets in the country and further increasing fares would inhibit public transport growth.

‘‘I don’t think it should be accepted that you recover all of those customers,’’ he said.

He supported Ms Aitken’s call for more information.

Dr Hastie pointed out that if fares did not increase then the balance of about $600,000 would have to come from rates, adding about $3 to everyone’s yearly bill.

Mr Bruce and councillor Nigel Wilson both said they were happy to see that happen. 

‘‘It’s a minimal impact,’’ Mr Wilson said. ‘‘I would like to see no fare increases at all. That burden should be shifted to the ratepayers.’’ 

Chairwoman Fran Wilde said reliability was the main driver of public transport use, not fares.

‘‘When the trains are reliable then people will use them. Of course that’s not to say that we should be fare gouging, but I don’t think that we are.’’

When the council set its fares, it took into account the cost of bringing a car into town, which was ‘‘quite high’’ when parking was factored in, she said. 

Councillors Paul Bruce, Nigel Wilson and Daran Ponter were the only ones who voted against the fare increases, which will go out for public consultation on March 25 through the Annual Plan process.

Councillors also voted unanimously to send the 2013/14 draft Annual Plan out for public consultation.

It proposes an average 2.6 per cent rates increase, down from the 9.4 per cent increase forecast in the council’s 2012-2022 Long-Term Plan.

Savings were found in the council’s ‘‘business as usual’’ expenditure, while delays to a review of the regional public transport plan and the introduction of integrated ticketing also helped.

How will the fare increases work?

- The more zones you travel, the bigger the impact on your wallet. So while the price of a ten-trip ticket for single-zone travel will only rise from $16 to $16.60, the price of a ten-trip ticket across all 14 zones between Wellington and Masterton will rise from $140.50 to $144.

- Regular cash fares for adults travelling 8, 11 and 12 zones (which costs $10, $14 and $15 respectively) will all go up by 50c each. Cash fares for children travelling 11 and 12 zones ($7 and $7.50) will go up by the same amount.

The Dominion Post