Hutt train commuters could be forced to pay more if a proposed reduction in fare zones gets the green light.
Greater Wellington Regional Council is launching a consultation exercise on Metlink fares, payment methods and discounts.
The preferred pre-consultation proposal sees the whole of the Hutt Valley change from four fare zones to one.
This means Lower Hutt train travellers paying cash or using concession cards would pay the same amount as passengers travelling to the end of the line.
Western Ward city councillor Max Shierlaw says such a system would disadvantage Lower Hutt commuters, who have already experienced serious service issues over the last year.
"If the whole of the Hutt Valley is one zone, then someone getting on at Upper Hutt would pay the same as someone getting on at Petone, which is grossly unfair," Cr Shierlaw says.
The Melling line in particular has had significant operational problems in the last year, resulting in one in three of their commuters abandoning trains, Cr Shierlaw says.
The use of buses for two months from April-June 2011 on morning and evening peak trains while upgrading was carried out was the main cause of disruption. The delays and increased journey times resulted in a 32 per cent drop in patronage compared with before the replacements, according to Metlink statistics.
Margaret Cousins, also a Western Ward councillor, has been trying to monitor the passenger decrease more recently by making multiple requests to GWRC for data.
"They know that patronage has not come back up since all the bus replacements last year because they are not giving the service," Cr Cousins says.
Reducing the number of zones would simplify the fare system, but the consultation document says it would also mean the minimum fare for short distance trips would increase.
Currently, an adult paying cash for catching a train from Wellington to Petone pays $5 (4 zones). To go all the way to Upper Hutt costs $8.50 (7 zones).
If there is only one zone for the Hutt Valley, it is likely the price will be somewhere in between these amounts.
''We need to take a fairly strong position on this zone change because it will affect a lot of people," Cr Shierlaw says.
Peter Borich, an IT Manager who travels to Wellington every day on the Melling line, says he is stunned by the proposal.
"It will probably mean a significant increase in fares for us, which is unfair."
Paul Kirby, another regular commuter from Normandale, says if fares were to go up, it would easily make travelling in a car a better alternative, especially if a vehicle is shared.
The future of train and bus travel is electronic ticketing and smartcards - such as Snapper - says regional council Economic Wellbeing Committee chairman Peter Glensor.
It's cheaper and faster to use smartcards, and when people ''tag'' on and off trains and buses using such cards, the fare deducted can be precisely tailored to how far they have travelled.
Cr Glensor says people who use smartcards will be unaffected the 14 current fare zones in the region are reduced to seven or five.
"However, there will probably always be a small group of people who won't use smartcards."
Those who insist on paying cash fares are the ones who could pay more with zone changes.
"In London, 98 per cent of [commuters] use smartcards. They're pushing there for removal of cash fares. I don't think we're there yet in greater Wellington but that is the way the world is moving."
Once issues such as revenue sharing between train and bus providers are sorted, people will ultimately be able to switch from train to bus using their smartcard and have the fare deducted for the total distance travelled, quite probably with a discount for using public transport for their entire journey.
Cr Glensor says it might be three years before we achieve such a system.
"I would say to Max [Shierlaw] with every zone there is an unfairness."
A bus passenger who gets off on Jackson St, Petone, pays the same fare as someone who goes to the outer edge of Alicetown.
"In Christchurch, there are only two zones."
Cr Glensor says the on-line survey to be launched at the end of this month is just the first phase of consultation on the Public Transport Fare System Review.
There will be ample opportunity for people to have a say before any changes happen in mid-2013.
Also proposed is a new youth fare, available to everyone aged under 20
See the full set of proposals at: www.farereview.co.nz/information
- Hutt News