Bus fare rise ruled out as patronage increases

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2014

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Wellington

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Plans to raise Wellington bus fares have been scrapped.

Greater Wellington Regional Council voted unanimously last night to ditch several fare increases - including a 50 cent jump for a single-zone cash fare that would have taken the cost to $2.50 - after being told public transport performance had improved.

The decision came after a day of public hearings on the council's draft Annual Plan, at which the fare increases had been criticised by several submitters.

The proposed increases would have started on October 1 and included a 50 cent hike for cash fares in zones 1, 7, 10, 13 and 14, rises in child cash fares in zones 1 and 2, and a 1 per cent increase for multi-trip tickets and Snapper fares.

The council had planned the increase in line with a policy of increasing revenue by 3 per cent each year.

But last night public transport general manager Wayne Hastie told councillors that increased patronage, along with "a significant reduction in rail costs", had put public transport services in a much stronger position than when the fare increases were suggested.

"With the increased numbers comes increased revenue."

Patronage had grown about 2 per cent on trains and 1 per cent on buses, and the end-of-year budget predictions were now set to be about $2.2 million better than the mid-year predictions.

Wellington City councillor Nicola Young was among several submitters who raised concerns about the increases earlier in the day, saying the cash fare rises would make it too expensive for people to use the bus, and would drive passengers away.

"Wellington has the highest and least-subsidised bus fares in New Zealand," she said. "Our bus service hasn't kept pace with our needs."

Regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde said councillors had listened to the submitters, but the decision to ditch the increases had been several weeks in the making - the review was requested after the third financial quarter showed much stronger results than the first half of the year.

"Since Christmas, patronage has been increasing steadily and there's no reason to believe it won't stay that way."

Paul Swain, the transport portfolio leader, said the investment in rail was paying off in passenger numbers, and public transport users were now seeing some of the benefits of that. "It's time for a dividend."

Wilde said the policy to increase the revenue would still be in place next year, but could be reconsidered in the Long Term Plan deliberations.

"We haven't changed the policy, we have just said on this occasion we don't need the fare increase."

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The fare structure will also be looked at during consideration of the draft Regional Public Transport Plan, on which the council will hear submissions today.

- The Dominion Post

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