'Public transport price shock on way'

Public transport users have been warned they will be stung in the pocket by rising travel costs.

The government will cut up to $17 million from its public transport budget for the 2011-12 financial year.

Further costings compiled by Green Party transport spokesman Gareth Hughes estimate that figure could balloon up to $87m over the next decade.

Hughes said the big losers would be the growing number of public transport users, warning that local councils would have to either hike up prices, or cut the number of services they offered.

"The burden is squarely being placed on the shoulders of rate-payers and public transport users.

"The government is reducing the financial assistance rates to councils. This means that regional councils will have to find more money to run the same bus and train services.

"Public transport patronage is growing fast. New Zealanders are looking for affordable options and the government needs to make up for decades of under-investment.

"Instead, they are doing the opposite, increasing funding for new state highways to over $1 billion a year for the next decade, while everything else suffers."

Hughes described the policy as a disincentive to increasing public transport services.

He said the time was right for the government to start investing in a "smart, green transport system for New Zealand".

"It will save us money, improve our health and keep New Zealanders moving," he said.

He said the government funding needed to achieve a sound and efficient nationwide public transport system would be "a tiny fraction of the billions" being spent on new motorways.

Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches backed Hughes' comments.

"We hope the government isn't going to be too severe on the public transport spend. But we know they are cutting back on the infrastructure spend. At the moment, the national road transport fund, which is a petrol tax and road-user charges, is $2.8 billion a year.

"Of that, 1.8% is spent on public transport infrastructure. But the government is seeking to cut that back to 0.7%. What the government says is, with public transport, the ratepayers are going to have to pay it [almost] entirely themselves."

Sunday Star Times