Back in February, only four regional councillors voted against plans to increase public transport fares in Wellington.
Sue Kedgley, Nigel Wilson, Gary McPhee and Paul Bruce voted against the fare increases that had been recommended by staff. All other councillors supported the plan, including council chair Fran Wilde.
But this week attitudes had changed. As Katie Chapman reported in the DomPost, the plans to increase fares were scrapped unanimously. No one supported them any more.
Was the decision influenced by all the criticism (“Wellington’s bus fares are so over-priced that it’s cheaper to drive”) of the planned increases? Not if you believe the regional council.
Public transport general manager Wayne Hastie told councillors that things had changed since February. Increased patronage, along with “a significant reduction in rail costs”, had put public transport services in a much stronger position than when the fare increases were suggested. “With the increased numbers comes increased revenue.” Patronage had grown about 2 per cent on trains and 1 per cent on buses, and the end-of-year budget predictions were now set to be about $2.2 million better than the mid-year predictions. Fran Wilde said; “Since Christmas, patronage has been increasing steadily and there’s no reason to believe it won’t stay that way
But in the announcement of the increases three months ago, there was no mention of passenger numbers. Wayne Hastie told councillors at that time that fare increases were needed to
“… help offset costs of providing public transport services which usually increase each year. Bus running costs, for instance, rose by about 1.7% in the last year and 3.5% the year before. Also we’re required to ensure that fares contribute around 55% to direct costs so the increase would keep us within that ratio.”
Today’s official announcement that the fare increases have been scrapped (“we won’t need to increase fares after all”) refers to six months of better than expected passengers numbers since Christmas. So it seems the council wasn’t tracking these passenger numbers when the increases were said to be necessary three months ago.
And as for the call for cheaper fares and offpeak discounts: not a word from the regional council in response to the suggestion from three city councillors.