by Lindsay Shelton
What are we to make of Mayor Justin Lester’s announcement that the regional council is discussing “potentially student discounts” for public transport? The mayor has also welcomed “a package of discounts for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.” But the regional council hasn’t yet made any such announcement.
Justin Lester’s comments are included in an effusive press release about the regional council’s draft annual plan for 2017/2018 which he says includes a fourth year of no increases in bus fares.
But on the same day the regional council’s announcement of its annual plan made no mention of any of the topics which are so pleasing to the mayor. Chris Laidlaw had a different focus. He talked about a rates increase of 5.5 per cent (ugh), and named four priorities for 2017/18:
· Investing in resilient regional infrastructure
· Making sure we can cope in emergencies
· Growing public transport patronage
· Keeping our environment clean
Search the regional council website, and you won’t find any link to the subject of freezing bus fares which the mayor announced. In fact, you won’t find any mention of the draft annual plan for 2017/2018, though consultation is starting on the 16th. “We want people to have their say,” says Chris Laidlaw. Difficult to engage, when there’s nothing yet to see.
There is, however, a draft consultation document which is well-hidden on the website, identified only as an “appendix” which was discussed at last week’s meeting. This document – not yet made public – will be the basis of the consultation which Chris Laidlaw is encouraging. It does include mention of the continuing freeze on public transport fares and says the council is
“now signalling our intention to bring in the package of fare initiatives in 2018/19 to align with the new bus contracts and the extension of Snapper as an interim bus ticketing system. The fare initiatives will be based on a review of the fare policies outlined in the Regional Public Transport Plan, and include off-peak discounts, transfer discounts, changes to one fare boundary and standardisation of fare rules.”
It’s clear that the discounts welcomed by the mayor are not to be expected for another year. And as for the possibility of student discounts (again, not this year) the regional council has yet to decide if they are affordable:
We also intend to consider whether a fare discount for tertiary students is affordable. Fare changes will form part of a comprehensive package of improvements to how public transport is delivered to our customers, including new bus networks, new bus operating contracts, new bus vehicles and new ticketing systems. We will have to also consider how the package of fare changes is funded and this may require some fare increases at that time.
Which reads as a fairly clear pointer to an increase in bus fares next year, at the same time as the new contracts take effect.