Fare-free public transport would ease cost of living woes - report

Source: 1News

The Government should focus on having more reliable public transport instead of free or more affordable fares, Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck says.

It comes three months after the Government halved prices on public transport across the country in a bid to ease pressure on increasing petrol prices.

Now, a new report from the PSA and First Union shows fares-free public transport in Auckland is viable.

The report states eliminating fares would cut emissions, traffic congestion and help ease the pressures on New Zealand’s cost of living crisis.

Auckland mayoral candidate and councillor Efeso Collins supported the report's findings, telling Breakfast it is “absolutely vital we have a strong public transport system”.

“We know that in the emissions reduction plan that the goal is to get to a 25% increase in public transport. I think the way to do it is to go fares-free so I endorse the report.”

Two CityLink buses in the Auckland city centre.

Beck, the chief executive of Heart of the City, said while public transport “is important” and there “are certainly groups that would benefit” from free or more affordable fares, “what really matters to get people out of cars is having better public transport”.

“My priority is actually to focus on the better public transport so that we do get people out of cars.”

She added that while fares-free public transport “does increase patronage, it generally comes from people who are already catching public transport or who are walking – not so much out of cars”.

“To move people out of cars, it has to be great public transport, reliable and get you where you need to go when you need to get there.”

Beck reiterated that while going fares-free would benefit people such as students and low-income Kiwis, “the reality is it’s not free”.

“Someone does pay. Ratepayers, taxpayers actually do have to pay for this … This could be up to half a billion dollars a year by 2030.”

Collins said Auckland Transport estimates a free public transport system would cost taxpayers “anywhere between $175-300 million” per year.

But he believes the Government will be able to pay for free public transport through “reprioritising where our spend is at the moment”.

“I think the equity focus means that everyone benefits from a universal service and it’s ensuring that everyone can access public transport.

“I don’t think it’s an either/or. It’s not free public transport or getting better reach for this service – this is about doing everything together.

“You’ve got to have both going at the same time, so let’s be ambitious, let’s say to people, ‘You don’t have to use your Hop card anymore, you just come on the bus, you get off the bus.’”

Collins said that the halving of public transport fares in April saw “140,000 extra trips from passengers in Auckland so it does work”.

He added while there have been criticisms around the country's public transport services, a 2018 report from Auckland Transport found a 91% satisfaction with the reliability of Auckland's trains and buses.

“We know that we can be confident that what we have at the moment is a good service but extending the reach is part and parcel of this package.”

Beck expressed concerns around the cost to the taxpayer and the “best return on investment”.

“At the end of the day, it comes back to also the goal. If you’re looking to get people out of cars to reduce emissions, the evidence I’ve seen is that this is not the best way to do it," she said.

“You’re actually better to invest in a great public transport service and target where you’re going to give your discounted pricing, or potentially free pricing.

“I just think that making it free for everyone – I haven’t seen evidence that that is the best use of our money.”