The Wellington City Council told the Regional Council yesterday that it does not support the proposed three per cent increase in bus and train fares. The message was delivered by Cr Sarah Free, who is the city council’s portfolio leader for public transport.
She called for “clear evidence that the fare rise is needed,” and she stated concern that Wellington City bus users are not getting the same concessions as train users in the region, something which “is not equitable or fair.”
Cr Free told regional councillors: “Please be in no doubt that this is an issue of importance and concern to our Council.”
Here is what she told the Regional Council when she spoke about her council’s submission on the fare review:
“The submission … contains some new suggestions around improving affordability such as amalgamating zones one and two within Wellington City so that the distance of the zones is more comparable with those outside the city….. The submission was discussed at our City Strategy Committee meeting, and several of my colleagues wanted it made even stronger with some additional amendments. Last but not least, it was endorsed unanimously by my Wellington City Council colleagues.
“There are a lot of good things in this review; we welcome the off-peak fares, the student fares, concessions for people with disabilities and of course the free (or penalty-less) transfers. The adjustment to the child fare to give a true 50% discount is welcomed but it is perhaps disappointing that we have had to wait so long for this.
“We support the recommendation … to retain the 30 day bus pass for travel in zones 1 to 3. However, this does not go as far as our submission requests. It is noted that GWRC’s Sustainable Transport Committee of 29 June 2016 received a paper on the principle of improving consistency regardless of mode of travel.
“The Wellington City Council is looking for some real movement on this. Our submission requested the provision of monthly bus passes but most importantly our submission on monthly bus passes asked for them to be priced at the same rate as the existing train passes.
“The $150 charge is quite plainly inconsistent and inequitable.
“For example, a commuter from Churton Park (3 zones) gets unlimited travel by train for $112 per month, while one from the Miramar peninsula will pay $149 for 20 working days, or $150 for the 30 day pass. The Miramar commuter would pay more than a commuter from Tawa ($126) and almost as much as a commuter from Paremata ($153), who would also enjoy free connecting buses and possibly free park and ride. This is hardly consistency or equity.
“We ask that at the least you provide the 30 day 1-3 zone bus pass at $112 per month which is the same as the for train. We request you to find the funding to make this possible, perhaps from the transport reserves of several million, or by making other adjustments, for example making the train passes more expensive if necessary so that both train and bus monthly passes can be provided at the same rate.
“GWRC is talking about moving to consistency and equity when integrated ticketing is introduced, but why the wait?
“Is it going to be any easier to finally bring about equity for bus users with integrated ticketing in two-three years time as has been promised, when train users have had even more time to get used to highly subsidised monthly passes and free bus connections?
“I don’t think you should underestimate the depth of feeling in Wellington City on this issue. It is unfortunate the iconography on page 16 of your information document suggested that there would be monthly passes for both trains and buses, because when Wellington City residents realised the highly discounted monthly passes were just for trains, and how much more they were paying for the bus, there was dismay and outrage.
“We ask you to reconsider this. There are advantages to providing a more affordable monthly bus pass at a time when there are lots of changes coming in next July;- it will be simple and quick for people to use; it will build goodwill around the changes, and will lift patronage.
“If there is not more equity for regular and frequent users of buses compared to trains via the monthly pass, we cannot support the 3% increase and ask that you vote against it.
“Officers who prepared the WCC’s submission have advised me that they would like to see more analysis done on other issues our submission has raised, particularly the reasoning behind declining to consider the zone one and two amalgamation when a zone boundary change has been considered for equity reasons in Porirua. They ask that GWRC consider this request explicitly or explain why it is considered impractical at this time.
“Similarly, they have advised me to note that in their view the report in front of you does not appear to have specifically covered the WCC’s request regarding consideration of free Wellington City bus connections with trains when using a monthly rail pass., as is the case with bus connections outside of Wellington City. They ask that GWRC consider this request explicitly or explain why it is is considered impractical at this time.
“In light of the WCC’s request for GWRC to provide greater transparency on fares and rating policy settings across all modes, zones and cities, WCC officers support the GWRC officer recommendation … to undertake a separate pricing project to review fare equity between modes and develop the capping approach as part of the transition to integrated fares and ticketing. They request that GWRC involve relevant officers from interested City and District Councils on this project.”
Cr Free summarised her council’s concerns as follows:
“Bus fares are extremely important as so many Wellington City residents use public transport …for at least two thirds of them it’s the bus.
“10,000 submissions to the Let’s Get Welly Moving Process showed that the number one thing on the wish list for our residents is better public transport…..
“And while Greater Wellington’s surveys show that satisfaction with affordability of the fare increased from 70% in 2014 to 75% in 2017, I’d like to suggest that may be because results are being collated across modes and across the region.
“The Wellington City Council’s 2017 Residents’ monitoring survey shows just 45% of people find bus fares affordable… These results have been similar now for some years.
“The graphed data, on page 5 of your report, shows 2-3 zone fares for Wellington are above that paid in Christchurch and well above that paid in Auckland. Travelling 2-3 zones of travel is typical for bus users in Wellington, which is perhaps why our surveys consistently show only 45% of our residents consider bus fares affordable, with 33 percent finding them unaffordable and 11 percent severely unaffordable.
“Wellingtonians are generous and fair-minded people. But Wellington City pays the lion’s share of the regional rates, and we are starting to question how our rates are being used. Wellington CBD businesses also are contributing hugely to providing public transport, mainly rail, via their GWRC rates, and their regional rates went up a whopping average of $613 this year. This compares with falls in the regional business rates in other areas in the region outside Wellington City, apart from Kapiti, which had a small rise.
“There are arguments that cheaper train fares help keep cars coming from northern areas out of the city, and we accept that. But according to the last Census, 70% of the people working in Wellington City also live in Wellington City, and there is increasing congestion within the city with cars coming from the south, east and west. Many Wellington City residents find it uneconomic to take the bus, and drive or are walking quite long distances. This comes at a cost to the liveability and economic functioning of our city. It isalso making it politically difficult to support the removal of car parks to enable the longer bus stops and bus lanes which GW officers are requesting.
“As to the cost of running buses compared to trains; it is difficult to compare as the trains and infrastructure are largely owned by GWRC, and therefore much is funded by capital expenditure. In comparison, the bus service is funded by operational funding and therefore looks more expensive.
“I obtained some information from one of your officers and my understanding is that if the interest from the capital was considered in relation to the trains, the fare recovery from the trains would only be 43% versus around 55% for the buses. In other words the trains are being subsidised much more heavily and cross-subsidies appear to exist.
“The fare box recovery is a whole separate issue, but as mentioned, the WCC would welcome the chance to make a joint submission with you to the government for more generous funding in this regard.
“To conclude…the Wellington City Council’s view is that Wellington City bus users are not getting the same concessions as users of other modes in the region and that this is not equitable or fair.
“WCC officers support undertaking a separate pricing project to review fare equity between modes. They request that GWRC involve relevant officers from interested City and District Councils on this project.
“WCC requests that as well as the other concessions which are supported, GWRC considers providing the 30 day monthly bus pass at the same price as the 3 zone train monthly pass.
“WCC does not support the 3% general fare rise until these matters can be addressed, and clear evidence is provided that the fare rise is needed.”
— Nicola Young (@nmjyoung) October 3, 2017