Fare hike expected to drive people from the buses

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/09/2012
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Catching your local bus is about to get more expensive - starting with a proposed fare hike next year.

The increase is one of a series of price rises proposed by Waikato Regional Council staff and is expected to push some bus users back into their cars.

But a long-serving councillor said the council had few options but to put up fares in the wake of the Government's funding cap for public transport.

The regional council's finance and audit committee will discuss the price proposal tomorrow, which would see fares increase by five per cent over the region's entire urban and rural bus networks.

Staff say the increase is needed if the council, which runs Waikato buses, is to meet the Government's farebox recovery targets and recommend "regular fare increases" across the network.

Farebox recovery measures the proportion of the service cost met by its users. Staff warn the fare increases could push some people away from public transport but "an increase in the average fare brought about by a fare increase is enough to offset the reduction in passengers . . ."

Councillor Lois Livingston said there was a lack of political will from central government to support public transport and the regional council had to "cut our cloth to fit".

"Every bus trip has at least a subsidy of $7 attached to it so you've got to say we've got to weather the storm and if that means some people come off the buses we can't do much about it. I don't think ratepayers could face any more rates increases to pay for buses.

"I think we've got a really good bus service for a city the size of Hamilton. We've done a really good job with our network until now and we'll just have to do the best we can under the constraints we face."

An informal Waikato Times online poll of 390 people showed 60.5 per cent of respondents had never used public transport in Hamilton while a further 19 per cent said they only used a bus once or twice a year.

Many Times readers said they were reluctant to use the buses, citing passenger overcrowding during peak hours, bus drivers' "negative attitude" and fare prices.

One reader said fares regularly increased "with the excuse that they are ‘improving services' but nothing really changes aside from some routes."

Last week, city councillor Dave Macpherson quit his role on the regional transport committee in frustration with his council's alleged preoccupation with road-building.

Mr Macpherson said he didn't believe the city council supported his efforts to promote alternatives to road transport.

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He said he was proud of the advances Hamilton had made in transport, including the fastest-growing bus patronage in the country.

- Waikato Times

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