Guest post by Daran Ponter on Wellington bus fare increases

September 30th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Wellington Regional Councillor :

1 OCTOBER BUS FARE INCREASES

The Greater (GWRC) bus and train fares are increasing again on 1 October (i.e. Tuesday), this time to increase the amount paid by commuters by an average of 2% (GWRC Notice).  This demand for a 2% increase in commuter fare revenue for 2013 will result in increases in the cost of Snapper and Mana card fares by 3.8% for Zone 1 fares and approximately 2.5% in most other fare zones.

On average, fares have risen by 8% over the past three years. 

The Greater Wellington Regional Council justified the 1 October fare increases on the basis of “covering rising costs”.  However, the Regional Council’s 2012/13 Year End result shows that instead of a budget shortfall of $3M, the council ran a significant budget surplus of nearly $1.5 million in the transport area (see table below) !

PT Group 2012/13

Actual ($000s)

Budget ($000s)

Variance ($000s)

Last Year
($000s)

Operating Revenue

94,107

101,186

(7,079)

95,629

Operating Expenditure

92,637

104,185

(11,548)

92,861

Operating surplus / (deficit)

1,470

(2,999)

4,469

2,768

 

The Year End Report of the PT Group not only shows for the year 2012/13 the GWRC spent $11.5M less than budget on public transport services, it shows it spent less in 2012/13 than the year previously ! The council has banked the 2012/13 transport surplus of $4.5M taking the transport reserve to $9M. 

Clearly last year’s 3% fare increase was actually never needed as predicted PT costs did not increase.  This also means that this year’s 1 October fare increases are simply not warranted. The regional council, through its own policies, has kept prices high and that this year it could actually have afforded to cut fares and still stay within NZTA funding rules!

The Council’s policy of increasing fares every year irrespective of the circumstances is just simply irrational and does nothing to attract people to use public transport.

Significant Drop In Patronage

As concerning is the fact that peak hour patronage on Wellington buses has dropped by 10% over the past three years (from 11,288,335 trips in 2010/11 to 10,214,328 trips in 2012/13). See http://www.metlink.org.nz/info/statistics/patronage-numbers/.  In the same period total patronage (peak and off-peak) dropped by 2%.

The Regional Council has been predicting patronage increases of 3-4% per annum, we have gone in precisely the opposite direction.  Peak bus patronage is now less than 2005/06.  Wellington bus commuters now realise that high bus fares mean it is cheaper to drive to work and are obviously doing so in increasing numbers.

These figures seriously bring into question the efforts that the Regional Council has been taking to encourage people onto public transport.  Its PT fare policy needs to be less about revenue and far more focussed on encouraging people and families onto public transport – fares cheaper than cars, wider discounts, especially in the off-peak and a commitment to park and ride facilities for bus commuters.

The GWRC plan for increasing public transport use is failing.  Increasing fares on Tuesday is the worst thing it can do when bus patronage is plummeting.   It is especially bad when all the increased revenue will not be spent on PT services . . . it will probably just end up being banked into the GWRC Transport Reserve.

I think it is wrong for the Regional Council to be increasing fares, in what appears to be a revenue generating exercise.

The policy of both central and local Government is that the fares should cover 55% of the costs of public transport, but with these increases the proportion paid for by fares will exceed that. The other issue is they are putting up bus fares to basically cover increased train operating costs. Bus fares should cover bus costs and train fares train costs.

If you are voting for Regional Council, ask your candidates whether they support an increase in bus fares, which is not justified or necessary.

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11 Responses to “Guest post by Daran Ponter on Wellington bus fare increases”

  1. Nigel Kearney (1,013 comments) says:

    As a daily bus user, I am more than happy to be subsidised by other ratepayers slightly less than in the past. The fact that train users are subsidised even more is unfortunate but has little relevance to the amount that ought to be charged for bus fares.

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  2. anonymouse (716 comments) says:

    The other issue is they are putting up bus fares to basically cover increased train operating costs. Bus fares should cover bus costs and train fares train costs.

    No they are not, have a look at this, its the annual report of the GWRC transport group for 2012
    http://www.gw.govt.nz/assets/council-reports/Report_PDFs/2013_819_2_Attachment.pdf

    The biggest contributor to the reduction in costs was a 5 million reduction in rail spend, due to lower contract costs and higher rail fare income.

    To say total fares are rising because rail costs are rising is false…

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  3. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    The policy of both central and local Government is that the fares should cover 55% of the costs of public transport…

    That’s your problem right there.

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  4. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    I personally made about 480 fewer trips by Wellington bus in the last 12 months, compared to the previous 12 months.

    There’s nothing much wrong with the Wellington buses, except that the only places they take you are damp, expensive, overrated Wellington suburbs :-)

    Commuting to central Wellington from Karori by bus was taking me the best part of 45 minutes each way.
    Commuting to central Wellington from the Wairarapa by train now takes me a bit over an hour.

    (The trains break down a bit more often than the buses, but when that happens, you can drive to Wgtn in about the same time as the train takes, for about the same cost…)

    Living in a shit box in Karori is more expensive than living on a quarter acre in the Wairarapa, even once the cost of commuting is taken into account. The sun shines a lot more over there too… I don’t think I’ll ever go back.

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  5. seanmaitland (500 comments) says:

    This is just a micro-cosm of all council items though – try being a rates payer where rates have gone up without fail every year, even during recessions, and then looking at their expenditure for a year and seeing that $750,000 is being spent on morning teas for staff.

    There is no personal responsibility by our councils or the people working there. They are the worst example of people out for their own personal gain and glorification.

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  6. campit (467 comments) says:

    Wellington bus commuters now realise that high bus fares mean it is cheaper to drive to work and are obviously doing so in increasing numbers

    How many bus users have switched to the new trains though? Has rail patronage increased?

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  7. campit (467 comments) says:

    Its PT fare policy needs to be less about revenue and far more focussed on encouraging people and families onto public transport – fares cheaper than cars, wider discounts, especially in the off-peak and a commitment to park and ride facilities for bus commuters.

    But, yeah, good article Daran. I thought central Govt is insisting on 50% farebox recovery, and Wellington is currently achieving less than that. Where does the 55% come from?

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  8. peterwn (3,273 comments) says:

    In return for higher fares, more effort needs to go into improving the reliability of the ‘real time’ departure signs and apps – in far too many cases the GPS on the buses seems to be switched off so they do not display actual times. Also, while no one would generally mind a bus running about 5 minutes behind timetable – they should NEVER run ahead of timetable and the GPS system should be used to enforce this. In the old days some cities installed time clocks at bus and tram stops to help ensure timekeeping. See for example:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Bundy_Clock,_Birmingham_City_Transport.jpg
    (I remember one of these contraptions at a bus stop near my grandparents’ house).

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  9. Ian McK (237 comments) says:

    Hope a certain ex-polly with form has not been near these figures! He is, after all, held in high esteem by the failed socialists running GWRC.

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  10. 2boyz (262 comments) says:

    I appreciate the time Daran has taken the time to get this information together, it would be nice to see other regional councillors to try and refute what he has presented.

    Bet he doesn’t have many other councillors to talk to at meetings, it seems like more effort it being taken to get bums off public transport seats and into private motor vehicles (roll on congestion charges, all part of a cunning plan I wonder :)) .

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  11. libertyscott (359 comments) says:

    Daran is from the Labour Party of course. There is no “profiteering” going on when it is a system of subsidies. $1.5m is next to nothing.

    The Regional Council should be increasing fares so that users pay. Of course without proper road pricing, there is a case for subsidies for peak time commuter fares as a proxy for what the cost difference should be between driving and travelling by public transport, but that is it. It’s unclear what level that should be at.

    Park and ride for buses is rather silly, off peak discounts are not.

    Fares are increasing because of public spending on infrastructure. Should ratepayers be paying more??

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