Cheaper to drive: unfair plan to increase fares on city’s over-priced buses

by Nicola Young
Wellington’s bus fares are so over-priced that it’s cheaper to drive. So it’s hardly surprising that, despite a six percent population increase over the past five years, our use of public transport has increased by only one percent. The past 10 years have been a lost decade for Wellington’s buses.

Public transport should be efficient and affordable; instead, the Greater Wellington Regional Council plans to increase cash fares by 25 – 33 percent across Zones 1-3 on October 1. These increases are unfair, will lead to a reduction in the use of buses in Wellington, and a possible increase in congestion.

The proposed price hikes will hit Wellingtonians the most, as we have the highest percentage of regular public transport users in New Zealand, and bus trips in Wellington city account for over half the region’s total public transport use. The most popular ticket is the Zone One fare and, as 40 percent of Zone One fares are paid in cash, this increase is significant – especially for those who can’t afford the upfront costs of a Snapper card.

These fare increases contravene the Regional Council’s position on social impact, as affordability directly affects bus usage – in particular: low income households, students, households without cars, school children, and people with disabilities. These are often people who cannot afford the upfront cost of investing in a smartcard.

Since 2010, the Zone One cash fare (or its equivalent, as the CBD Zone fare no longer exists) has increased from $1, to $2, and now $2.50 is proposed. The new Zone One child’s cash fare will cost more than a comparable adult fare in Auckland.

Zone One tickets are already more expensive than using a car, which is contrary to the GWRC’s goal to make public transport an affordable alternative. It is estimated the proposed Zone One cash fare increase will generate $0.25million; this could be raised by a slight reduction in the 42% discount currently given to Rail Monthly fare users (estimated to cost $5million a year).

Bus users already pay more than their fair share, as our fares are the highest in New Zealand, and the least subsidised. Wellington bus passengers pay around 67 percent of their fares, compared to Aucklanders who pay between 45 percent and 55 percent.

Rail users (only one third of the region’s commuters) have much cheaper fares, have much bigger subsidies (funded by Wellington ratepayers) and, unlike bus users, can buy monthly tickets. The GWRC anticipates spending more than $494million on public transport infrastructure over the next six years, but only 2.6% of this will be spent on our buses (and ferries). Zones 1 – 3 fares (mainly bus users) are higher than car travel, yet Zones 4 – 13 (mainly rail users) have cash fares that are cheaper than car travel.

Low rail monthly fares give a disproportionate benefit to train passengers. The GWRC should reduce the discount on monthly rail tickets, as rail users have benefited from a massive upgrade in trains, track, upgraded platforms and extended (free) ‘park and ride’ facilities; now it is time to sort out our bus service.

Note: I made a personal submission to the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s draft Annual plan, so I’m delighted the Wellington City Council has finally decided to make a submission to the Regional Council’s draft Public Transport Plan, asking – amongst other things – for ‘fairer fares’.

Nicola Young is a Wellington City Councillor for the Lambton Ward



  1. Victor Davie, 17. May 2014, 0:20

    I’m very impressed with Councillor Young’s comprehensive information. A pity the Go Bus company allows side windows of their bus fleet to be covered in advertising. Impossible for passengers to see outside to know when to alight. Locals and tourists using them should ask for their money back. Or refuse to pay. Visual pollution at its worst! Regional councillors obviously don’t care about this form of transport.

  2. CC, 17. May 2014, 7:13

    Four words for Cr Young to consider: Infratil… Infrastructure… Investors… Returns…

  3. Jacob Toner, 17. May 2014, 8:19

    Well researched and written. It is appalling to see systematic relative overcharging for buses with the inevitable flow on impact to patronage. As a modern city we should be looking to encourage public transport use and the decisions of the GWRC fly in the face of that goal.

  4. Traveller, 17. May 2014, 13:40

    The city council announcement about its submission to the Regional Council shows a “cap in hand” attitude, as if the Regional Council is the absolute boss and the city council is a supplicant, begging for small mercies. How come the two organisations aren’t equal? How come the city council doesn’t have a controlling influence on bus fares in its city? Why has it been so embarrassingly positioned as having to send a written submission (like any ratepayer), instead of being able to negotiate strongly from a position of equality inside the regional council’s tent?

  5. Nicola Young, 17. May 2014, 13:44

    Bus fares are set by the GWRC; Infratil has to work within GWRC constraints – fares, routes, etc

  6. Sridhar Ekambaram, 17. May 2014, 21:29

    Good work Nicola! We need councillors like you to impress on GWRC not to increase bus fares anymore. If anything they need to come down.

  7. CC, 18. May 2014, 7:47

    The following indicative fares are provided so that Cr. Young might try to explain how GWRC ‘constrains’ Infratil’s profit margins when fare structures are negotiated.

    - Bus fare from Auckland Airport to Ferry terminal – 24km (on an unsubsidised service) costs 66c/km.
    - Wellington Airport to Railway Station – 8km (subsidised?) costs $1.125/km.

    Assessing the costs of public transport requires more than formulating or repeating spin lines, then advocating that Wellington rate and tax payers should front up with larger subsidies to encourage public transport usage.

  8. Daran Ponter, 18. May 2014, 11:03

    Good article Cr Young.

    As a GWRC councillor who voted against fares increases I agree that Wellingtonians need more affordable public transport.

    But you seem to avoid two things in your article – (1) the role of the Government (NZTA) in setting fare recovery rules; (2) and the cost of trolley buses, which in recent years has ballooned.

  9. Michael Gibson, 18. May 2014, 15:30

    Cr Young gets universal approval – why has nobody else been standing up for Wellington?
    Lower fares should surely get better support from the Greens especially since the only Greater Wellington Councillors who actually live full-time in Wellington are Green.
    The trouble is that the GWRC majority are not paying fares in Wellington City & are only concerned with getting Wellingtonians to pay as much as possible to their rates in Kapiti or the Wairarapa or wherever (through paying exorbitant fares in Wellington).
    This is misguided – but it was ever thus & has been getting worse very recently. That is until Nicola Young came onto the scene!

  10. Daran Ponter, 19. May 2014, 10:39

    Whoa Michael – In the last term three councillors consistently voted against fare increases – me (Wgtn), Cr Paul Bruce (Wgtn) and Cr Nigel Wilson.

    I agree that some councillors are protecting their patch and are quite unperturbed about Wellington City carrying the burden of costs for public transport across the region.

    I do think the Council could be smarter in the way it contracts. But to a large extent the Council’s hands are tied by the NZTA who set the rules for fare box recovery (i.e. how much the council must recover from passengers).

  11. Kerry Wood, 19. May 2014, 16:25

    What does Nicola mean by “its cheaper to drive”?
    Does she include paid parking, ‘free’ parking or street parking. Somebody is paying for all of these.
    Does she include other hidden subsidies, such as the 50% of local road costs paid from rates, or externalities such as noise and greenhouse gas emissions (much higher for cars than buses)?
    Does she include depreciation, servicing and registration?
    Or is she simply using parking and petrol?

  12. Ross Clark, 20. May 2014, 1:18

    While fare levels do have an effect on demand levels, it is very difficult to use lower fares to attract car *drivers* out of their cars (car passengers are a slightly different story). The very simple reason? Cars are simply far more convenient.

    A public transport system which was as convenient as the car would be very expensive; and restricting the use of cars in the CBD (eg. by controlling the availability of parking and especially commuter parking), is politically, a no-go. I am sure that this is understood, but it needs to be admitted to.

  13. Strathmore Park, 21. May 2014, 14:11

    Let’s be honest here. The patronage on buses has been falling, the service getting worse, the cost increasing and what we hear from the collective GWRC is just mindless waffle and propoganda.

    I don’t agree with Ross Clark when he says that a public transport system which was as convenient as the car would be very expensive. We used to have a world class public transport system and the GWRC has basically done nothing to it in the last eight years.

    It is cheaper to drive, I’ve run the figures. And more, it saves (from Strathmore at least) about twenty hours a week of sitting in a bus, waiting for a bus, and the like. That’s time I can use in my life quite frankly.

    This idealistic left bollocks coupled with a GWRC who have no interest in improving the service, running their own agenda, and pouring tens of millions into trains is going to kill it off.

    Shutting down car parks and make it difficult to drive in town will just compound the issues. Basically, the CBD will be difficult to access and business will suffer as a result.

  14. Phil C, 22. May 2014, 2:00

    Has anyone undertaken a comprehensive study of the provision of public transport under the old WCC and the newer outsourced model, addressing financial aspects incl. subsidy levels, the extent of the routes, employee conditions and wages, quality of buses (including safety) etc. It would seem to me an appropriate juncture to compare the two ideologies of providing public transport i.e. in-house or outsourced.

  15. Ross Clark, 22. May 2014, 21:57

    @Strathmore – to get my point across more clearly: even if it were much more expensive to drive, many would still prefer to do so. The convenience factors you yourself cite explain why (“And more, it saves (from Strathmore at least) about twenty hours a week of sitting in a bus, waiting for a bus, and the like. That’s time I can use in my life quite frankly”).

  16. Alana, 24. May 2014, 21:23

    Excellent arguments, Cr Young. A recent study in LA found that users of public transport saved on average $10,000 per year!


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