Though regional councillors have stubbornly ignored public support for the trolley buses, they should be paying attention to concerns about other public transport changes – because the criticism has come from their colleagues at the city council.
It was startling last week to learn that city councillors have been unanimous in finding fault with parts of the new transport proposals, using strong words:
“not equitable or fair” / “inconsistent and inequitable” / “dismay and outrage”
The city council’s portfolio leader for public transport Cr Sarah Free delivered the city councillors’ message  at last Wednesday’s meeting:
“…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….
“…[the city council’s] submission on monthly bus passes asked for them to be priced at the same rate as the existing train passes. The $150 [bus] charge is quite plainly inconsistent and inequitable.
” … 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.”
“I don’t think you should underestimate the depth of feeling in Wellington City on this issue. Your information document suggested there would be monthly passes for both trains and buses, [but] 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…
“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% fare increase and ask that you vote against it.”
And still more:
“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.”
Cr Free also raised the issue of affordability:
“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….
“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 is also making it politically difficult to support the removal of car parks to enable the longer bus stops and bus lanes which regional council officers are requesting.”
Khandallah resident Murray Jaspers expanded on the city council’s concerns in his submission to the same meeting of the regional council: 
“An increase in [bus] fares for most users … is neither appropriate nor acceptable .. The time has arrived to stop over-subsidising trains at the expense of bus services in the city and immediate suburbs. The “Better Metlink Fares” proposal does not redress that balance and as a consequence is not fair for bus patrons. … Reasonable fares and quality service provisions such as regularity, frequency and reliability and conducive route design are what is required to increase patronage – not fare increases. Patronage needs to be encouraged, and it is Wellington city users who need to be encouraged. Regional rail users have had their share.”
“Most serious is the prospect of the Metlink … fare increases being introduced next July impacting at the same time as the new city and suburban bus routes changes and changes to the off-peak frequency. This is also at the same time as …a new bus operator starts to service the routes with the teething problems of a new bus fleet. All of these are inextricably linked. This is absurd and defies any planning logic…
“It is difficult to reconcile GWRC’s proposed increase in fares and reduction in some services with their stated aim of improving access and affordability. To reduce fares for a small segment of patrons whilst reducing service quality, making route changes and increasing fares for peak users is unsustainable. Put simply, there is no direct evidence that this overall fare proposal will lead to improvements to the way the city’s bus network will operate. In fact with concurrent plans to degrade aspects of the off-peak service and institute route changes to a number of suburbs there is the likelihood that matters will be worse.”
Specifics on the affordability of bus fares were reported by Damian George in the DomPost, where he wrote that many low-income families were having to choose between food and taking the bus. 
The concerns about what the Regional Council calls its “better MetLink fares”  (otherwise described as fare changes and variations to fares policies) were heard last Wednesday at a meeting of the council’s “sustainable transport committee.” The meeting followed a month of consultation , which brought 505 written submissions.
Regional councillors should not have been surprised by the city council’s criticism. A key theme from the 505 submissions was the need to address the lack of equity between bus and rail fares and the high level of discount provided to rail passengers using monthly passes when compared to bus travel.
Councillors, all of whom are members of the transport committee, have been advised that a principle of consultation is that views presented to them should be accepted with an open mind, and should be given due consideration when decisions are taken. Though they didn’t have an open mind when they ignored the public’s wish to keep trolley buses , they have a chance to be more responsive on the issue of equal treatment for bus and train travellers, and they should also be re-thinking the need for a 3 per cent fare increase. As committee members, they have to make recommendations to themselves for when they meet as the regional council.
The next meeting of the Regional Council is on Wednesday, but they won’t be considering (or reconsidering) their transport plans till their meeting on the 26th.