Editorial: Bus users getting a rough ride

Many bus commuters will be the biggest losers if fare changes proposed by the Greater Wellington Regional Council are ...

Many bus commuters will be the biggest losers if fare changes proposed by the Greater Wellington Regional Council are implemented.

EDITORIAL: Tertiary students, off-peak commuters, schoolchildren, the blind and disabled.

That's the group of people set to benefit in the Greater Wellington Regional Council's (GWRC) planned shake-up of the city's public transport fare structure.

The potential losers? Pretty much everyone else. And possibly add the regional economy as well.

Under the proposal, the regional council is considering substantial discounts for those groups mentioned above, which will be funded by a three per cent jump in fares for other users and various other changes. Given that the GWRC also plans to scrap monthly bus passes and the discounts that go with them, the true cost to many users of public transport could be much higher.

The intentions, as always, are admirable: if they are agreed and implemented in 2018 these will be the first fare rises in five years, and they will help people in the community who need it.

We applaud that, but like the Wellington City Council, we wonder if its regional counterpart is working hard to right one particular wrong by magnifying another.

That's because a large part of that assistance will be subsidised by another significant group of strugglers – the 33 per cent identified in a city council survey who say the current fares are unaffordable.

Many of  those making up that group will not be students, blind or disabled; they will be rush-hour travellers on their way to work, the people who keep the wheels of industry and the economy turning, the pistons of productivity well oiled.

Making public transport less affordable and more inaccessible for them could actually hurt the economy.

The New Zealand Transport Agency puts the cost of economic isolation at $3.4 billion every year. A sustainable public transport network helps to mitigate much of that. 

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In laying the tracks to that mitigation strategy the GWRC is creating yet another inequity. Rail users already enjoy cheaper travel in comparison with bus users. Under the proposal, rail users will retain their monthly passes.

Again, it is hard to escape the conclusion that they will be subsidised by the hapless bus commuter, without good reason.

That lack of transparency can be levelled at the other major player in this debate, the Government.

One of the city council submissions on the proposal calls on the GWRC to reduce its reliance on fare revenue to drive its public transport and use more of the government money available: 57 per cent of the regional council's operating costs are covered by fares; in Auckland the figure is 44 per cent, while in Christchurch it's 38 per cent.

The NZTA says that it covers half the cost of public transport around the country through the National Land Transport Fund.

If that's true then the regional council appears to be enjoying a seven per cent premium, but we suspect that's not the case.

A source suggests that the government contribution is closer to 43 per cent, and they also believe that some areas are getting more than others.

That's not right either – let's keep the wheels on the bus going round and round, and ensure it's a fair ride for all.

 - Wellington


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