Low income Wellington families choosing between food and public transport
Wellington's public transport is so unaffordable for many low-income families, some are having to choose between food and taking the bus.
That's the message from advocacy group Community Networks Wellington (CNW), which is urging the Greater Wellington Regional Council to reconsider its plan to raise the price of public transport in the region from next year.
The group is affiliated with more than 130,000 Wellingtonians across more than 100 organisations, and one of those people, Rangi Ngerengere, knows the struggle all too well.
Ngerengere, 37, attends an adult literacy course in Wellington's CBD, as well as a women's programme one day a week, forking out $40 each week for four return bus trips from her home in Strathmore – about 8 kilometres from the city.
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Throw in the occasional $7 return trip to Wellington Hospital in Newtown for her 2-year-old son Jacob Williams, who rides for free, and the costs can mount.
With a weekly income of $189, that money is not always easy to find, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made.
"It's food, always," she said.
While some weeks Ngerengere will forgo things such as meat in her weekly shopping list, the real crunch comes when she has to give up a meal altogether.
"I'll go without. I'll sacrifice my eating for him if I have to. I'd rather feed my son than myself. It's life."
The 25 per cent off-peak discount proposed by the council would not help Ngerengere, as she normally caught the bus before 9am, she said.
The proposed increase would see adult one and two zone cash fares increase by 50 cents.
CNW co-chairwoman Bridget Murphy said even without it, the cost of public transport was too high.
"Certainly we're hearing that the bus fares are wholly unaffordable for a large chunk of the population and, yes, in some cases, people are choosing food or the bus.
"In which case, we often hear stories of people walking from Strathmore in to town, rather than taking the bus.
"And especially in the middle of winter, that's a real health issue as well."
In one instance, a social worker reported a man was walking 40 minutes with his child from his home in Strathmore to his child's school in Newtown in the middle of winter, wearing only jandals on his feet because he had gout.
In another case, a person walked from Wellington to the Hutt Valley to make an appointment with another agency.
Murphy works for Literacy Aotearoa Wellington, where it was not uncommon for people to come to class without having eaten breakfast or lunch, she said.
Often, students tried to schedule all their appointments on one day to avoid multiple public transport trips, meaning they often missed important sessions.
Commuters could get a 25 per cent discount by purchasing a Snapper card, but Murphy said the $10 purchase cost, as well as bulk top-up payments which were often required, were too expensive for many people.
"I’d love to see a bit of consultation done on that, because it’s easy to have some ideas but I think if you ask the people that use it you’re going to get the most precious information."
The council's sustainable transport committee chairwoman Barbara Donaldson said the committee would continue to look at the issue of affordability.
As well as the overall 3 per cent increase, the committee had proposed a raft of discounts, such as for school and tertiary students, off-peak commuters and the blind and disabled.
"These organisations want to make sure it's affordable, but this is our best estimate at the moment," Donaldson said.
"Our evidence shows us people are pretty satisfied they're getting value for money, but it's something we'll keep looking at."
NZ BUS FARES
Auckland: 1 zone: $3.50, 2 zones: $5.50, 3 zones: $7, 4 zones: $9, 5 zones: $10.
Hamilton: Adult fare: $3.30, city explorer: $7.90.
Wellington (current): 1 zone: $2, 2 zones: $3.50, 3 zones: $5, 4 zones: $5.50, 5 zones: $6.50
Christchurch: 1 zone: $4, 2 zones: $5.50
Otago: 1 zone: $2.60, 2 zones: $3.40, 3 zones: $6, 4 zones: $10.20, 5 zones: $15.30
All fares based on adult cash rates
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