13 Sep 2017

Loss of monthly pass could hit Wgtn bus commuters

8:21 pm on 13 September 2017

Wellington commuters could end up paying an extra $450 a year to bus to work, compared to going the same distance by train, if proposed fare changes go ahead.

Train commuters in Wellington region.

Taking the train instead of a bus could save Wellington commuters hundreds of dollars a year, under planned fare changes. Photo: SUPPLIED / GWRC

The Greater Wellington Regional Council is proposing a 3 percent average fare increase, offset by discounts for off-peak trips, full-time tertiary students, children and people with disabilities.

These will come into effect in July next year, when new operators take over and new buses hit the road.

However, monthly bus passes would also disappear in the process - pushing up the price for many commuters.

Wellingtonians currently pay the highest fees for public transport on a per-kilometre basis.

Analysis from 2013 shows that under the current fare structure they are paying up to 180 cents per kilometre, compared to 10-40 cents in other cities.

Sarah Free - the Wellington City Councillor responsible for public transport, cycling and walking - said there was a lot of good stuff in the proposal, particularly the free bus transfers and the new discounts.

But she said buses remained unaffordable for many commuters.

"One of our most recent surveys showed that 33 percent of people felt that fares were unaffordable, and of that 11 percent actually felt they were 'very unaffordable'.

"Bus fares are regularly flagged as reasons why people don't take the bus," she said.

Scrapping the monthly bus passes exacerbated the unfair cost difference, about 25 percent discount, between buses and trains - which were keeping passes, Mrs Free said.

"[At] a recent meeting, a resident from the eastern suburbs actually raised that if she loses her monthly bus pass, which currently costs her $150 ... it's actually going to cost her $500 more a year than a train user travelling the same distance," she said.

But Barbara Donaldson, the chair of the regional council's sustainable transport committee, said the monthly bus pass was offered by the current operator NZ Bus, not the council.

That meant it could not be retained from next year, and not many people used it anyway, she said.

However, Ms Donaldson said stories such as those were the whole point of consulting.

"That sounds really unfortunate, and obviously the whole reason that we've asked for submissions is so that we can look at these things again," she said.

However, Ms Donaldson said commuter fares could not go any lower.

"Fifty five to 60 percent of our operating costs have to be met by our fares, otherwise we don't get the Transport Agency subsidies," she said.

The overall package of concessions and fare changes will cost the regional council about $7.5 million. The 3 percent fare increase will cover about $2.5 million of that.

The council expected a 4 percent increase in passenger trips as a result of the changes.

Submissions on the proposal - which can be made here - must be in by Monday.

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