Public transport advocates see price cut as 'great opportunity'

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

The Government's decision to halve the cost of public transport for three months from April 1 is being welcomed as a "great opportunity" by advocacy groups.

A bus in Wellington.

The decision, announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday, comes as she faces pressure over the high cost of living for Kiwis.

The sweeping changes to ease the price of transport also include the Government slashing fuel taxes as the price at the pump skyrockets.

The fuel tax decrease came into force at 11.59pm on Monday night and the public transport price drop starts on April 1.

READ MORE: What you need to know about fuel tax, public transport cuts

Free Fares, a campaign by the Aotearoa Collective for Public Transport Equity, spokesperson Ryan Hooper-Smith said he was in support of the decision.

"It's a clear indication that the Government believes public transport can be part of the solution to the increase in the cost of living, and we hope they do more as part of Budget 2022."

He says it provides "a great opportunity for New Zealand to see what cheaper public transport can do for us all".

"Living in a time where climate change is a pressing issue, we need to all take the commitment to modal shift and reducing our emissions. If this pushes more Kiwis towards using public transport, then that is a great achievement.

"It also should give us some useful data to see how decreased prices for public transport increases patronage, which should hopefully help the push for Free Fares."

Hooper-Smith also says free or cheaper public transport would be cheap for the Government.

The Government says it will put money into the transport fund to ensure promised projects could still go ahead. It is estimated to cost $350 million for the fuel tax decrease and between $24 and $40m for the public transport costs.

"It's very clear that making public transport free is an incredibly cheap option for the Government, particularly compared to other relief measures, and we call on the Government to extend this permanently for those who most need it - under 25's, tertiary students and Community Services Card holders.

"A move like this will make significant long-term differences for those groups, and help to prevent hardship in three months when prices rise again."

As for commuters themselves, Hooper-Smith urged Kiwis to take the opportunity make the shift.

"We want to see as many people utilising cheap public transport during this three month period as possible.

"Rather than taking your car to the stores, catch a bus. Instead of driving into the city for a dinner, take the train. It's super easy to make the shift to public transport, and it's likely going to save you money during this period as it becomes significantly more cheaper than the fuel and parking costs you'll be paying in the alternative."

Entice people back

But another advocacy group thinks the Government, and especially councils, should be marketing the advantages of public transport more.

The Campaign for Better Transport's Jodi Johnston told 1News since patronage dropped off amid the Covid-19 pandemic, now's the time to try entice people back.

"The timing (of the announcement) is terrific, I mean, if case numbers continue dropping as they are and our cities and towns open back up again in April, then it's almost that nice line in the sand."

Johnson hopes the move from the Government will both lure people back and entice new people to give public transport, like buses or trains, a go.

“It's great, it was unexpected, it was a great surprise, it's great the Government's going quite bold in saying a 50% fare reduction.

"We just hope that people take this opportunity to, if they were previously commuters, to get back on the bus or train once things get back to some sense of normal, if they've never been a user or have tried it in the past and maybe never went forward for one reason or another just give it a go, give it a try, maybe they'll have a pleasant surprise and find they like it."

As for the three-month timeline, Johnson thinks it's a good length to get an idea of demand.

Another advocacy group wants the price drop to stay.

"New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, has the highest public transport fares in the world. So half price should be included indefinitely to raise patronage and get people accustomed to using it while saving money through less private motor car use," Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) national coordinator Jon Reeves told 1News.

He added that "while we are pleased with the half price offer during high fuel costs, it seems to not include Intercity buses which are the only public transport services in many regional, rural and provincial towns across New Zealand.

"This needs to be included immediately to deliver fair and equitable outcomes across our country."