Bus patronage down, but fares to increase again

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2014
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Will raising fares put you off taking the bus?

No, it's the best way to get around

No, but I will grumble about the price hike

Not sure, I will need to cost it out

I stopped using the bus after the last fare hike

I don't use public transport anyway

Yes

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The pinch of bus fare rises is causing Wellington commuters to desert public transport - but the regional council has responded by raising fares further.

Bus patronage had not increased since 2008, yet fare revenue was expected to rise 3 per cent annually in Greater Wellington Regional Council's long-term plan.

Councillors voted yesterday to increase bus and train fares. Smartcard and multi-trip fares would rise in October by 1 per cent, and cash tickets by 50 cents in certain zones.

The public can give feedback on the decision during the council's Annual Plan consultations in April.

Councillors Sue Kedgley, Nigel Wilson, Gary McPhee and Paul Bruce voted against the increase.

Constantly raising fares was a failed economic model, and it was better to use rates to cover rising transport costs, Mr Wilson said.

"The rest of the intelligent world is looking at more ways to get people on public transport. This slow, steady, frog-in-the-pan increase, it gets to a point where it just doesn't work anymore."

October's rise will increase to 55 per cent the share of public transport costs funded by tickets, a 2 per cent increase from current levels.

The New Zealand Transport Agency, which funds about a quarter of the cost, sets fare revenue targets. The remaining cost is covered by ratepayers.

Bus patronage was supposed to drop further when Transmission Gully and other road projects were finished in the next decade, Ms Kedgley said. "You would think we would be focusing on strategies to increase bus patronage."

Fare increases would only be palatable to commuters if buses and trains were more reliable.

Wairarapa councillor Gary McPhee proposed a fare freeze on the Wairarapa train line until KiwiRail lifted its performance to match other Wellington lines.

Fellow councillors were sympathetic but voted down the amendment.

Wairarapa trains were appalling but efforts to improve them should have succeeded before October, said council chairwoman Fran Wilde. That was Pollyanna talk, Mr Wilson said.

"History tells us it won't be [improved]. What are we supposed to tell people? ‘This service that you think is really shitty, we're going to increase the cost to you.' It's not a good message."

The council had made significant and expensive efforts to attract passengers, Ms Wilde said.

These included the Matangi trains, the public transport spine initiative and real-time information signs.

Integrated ticketing was on the way but had been held up by a government study into nationalising the project, she said.

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Councillor Paul Swain said the news was not all bad for passengers, with off-peak fare discounts and a raised youth rate cutoff to 19 years on the cards.

FARE DEAL? 

Bus and train fares are set to increase 1 per cent from October 1 for multi-trip tickets and fares on smartcards like Snapper cards.

There will be a 50-cent increase in adult cash fares in zones 1, 7, 10, 13 and 14.

A trip within Wellington's CBD will rise from $2 to $2.50.

Child cash fares will increase by 50 cents in zones 1 and 2.

Zone 1 fares last increased in 2010, from $1.50 to $2.

- The Dominion Post

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