Rail and cycleways up for debate

A proposal to raise bus and train fares has divided Wellington 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 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.

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.

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.''

Meanwhile, a proposed $20 tax to fund a city-wide network of cycleways has been backed by Christchurch city councillors and will now go out for public comment.

The tax, or uniform annual charge, was proposed by Mayor Bob Parker as a way of funding nearly $70 million worth of new cycleways across the city and a new $2m walkway around Lyttelton Harbour.

See the city council's proposed transport plan by clicking here.

He asked councillors at a special meeting today to consider the proposed draft three-year plan to support his proposal, telling them if the council is committed to promoting active travel in the city it needs to put its money where its mouth is.

"It is a stake in the ground. It is saying not just that we think these are great ideas but we are going to do something about it,'' Parker said this morning.

Councillors vote in favour of the proposal late this afternoon. However, it remains as a draft plan and will be open to public consultation.