12 Apr 2022

Public transport ultimately 'can't be subsidised or underwritten' - Christopher Luxon

3:59 pm on 12 April 2022

The case for ongoing public transport subsidies does not stack up, National Party leader Christopher Luxon says.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

As part of a package to ease financial pressure, the cost of public transport has been halved from April through to the end of June. Its use in Auckland hit record highs in the first week of April, coinciding with the start of the reduced fares.

Auckland Transport says public transport use hit the one million mark that week.

The busiest day of the year was Thursday 7 April, with 175,774 trips - up nearly 20 percent on a fortnight earlier.

Auckland Transport said the one million trips per week mark was reached in the first full week of April, which followed the introduction of the government's three month, half price fare initiative.

The cost of the three-month fare reduction is estimated to be between $25 million and $40m.

When asked if the cut-price subsidised fares were something he would like to see extended further, National's Christopher Luxon said he believed services should not have to be propped up by taxpayers.

"There's a need for us to continue to drive mode shift, I get it, but you've got to build good-quality public transport options that people choose to use."

While it had been helpful to help people right now with the cost of living crisis, it needed to be revisited, Luxon said.

"But ultimately, public transport needs to stand on its own feet. It can't be subsidised or underwritten ... it has to be able to build on its own case," he told reporters.

The Green Party has called for the subsidy to be increased to fully cover public transport forever, with co-leader James Shaw saying the cuts were already making a clear difference.

"We know that passenger numbers are up significantly," he said.

"I know that halving the price of fares hasn't been the only thing that has contributed to that, obviously the sharp increase in petrol ... has also contributed to that as well, but I think if we can make those kinds of moves permanent you will see a sustained shift in the way people get around."

Shaw said making public transport free had a "tremendous" effect overseas, but it would need to be backed by increasing the number of buses, trains and drivers.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson this afternoon derided Luxon's suggestion.

"If he wants a cost of living crisis he'll get one if he doesn't subsidise public transport," he said.

"Public transport more generally is important, it's good for people who are on lower incomes but it's also good for the environment in terms of climate change ... we'll be continuing to subsidise public transport."

This year's Budget will be held on 19 May, and there have been hints public transport will feature.

Robertson said he would not prejudge future Budget commitments, but because of its important climate and lower-income effects the government would continue looking at ways to support it.

In a speech last month, he said the government would "progress work to ensure we are not at the whim of international oil prices in future, through greater investment from the Climate Emergency Response Fund", in the May Budget.

"These investments will boost our plans for New Zealand to increase energy security and independence by decarbonising our transport fleet and reducing our reliance on volatile global energy markets."

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