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