The problem with the Super Goldcard

The Spinoff reports:

Statistics released under official information legislation reveal a tiny group of 100 Supergold card holders hoover up over $200,000 worth of free trips to every year. …

For much of the country this is busses and trains, often limited to off-peak times and thus a very defensible effort to allow older people to get around when the load on transport networks is relatively low. In Auckland though, after 9am, it means ferries too – including the 23 kilometre trip from the city’s Downtown Ferry Terminal to Matiatia wharf in Oneroa.

This has created a quite extraordinary situation in which one of the country’s prettiest and priciest commutes, from one of the most expensive suburbs in the country, costs a select group of its users exactly nothing.

Which is not to say that it’s free. You and I and every other taxpayer in country contribute as much as $1.9m a year – from a total Supergold national travel budget of $28m – to this one narrow trip.

So around 7% of the entire budget goes on ferries to under 0.1% of the population.

It revealed just how concentrated the benefits of this scheme are: the data showed that the top 1000 users of the scheme used almost $1.9m in the 22 months to May 2018 – an average total of over $1,800 per pensioner, and over half of total payments to ferry operators.

The top 100 users have an even more shocking slice – they have claimed over $400,000 in free rides in less than two years: an average of $4,087 each.

The cost of an adult return fare to Waiheke is $38, and there is no discount for HOP card users or seniors who don’t hold a Supergold card. The upshot is that the 100 most frequent users of the service are using over 10% of the total budget for ferry travel to Waiheke.

To use the ferry that frequently you’re not taking day trips, or even holidaying there: you’re commuting. It’s the equivalent of over 200 one way trips a year – a usage rate which would be near impossible to achieve unless you were working on the mainland and living on the island.

If something is free, of course people will maximise its use. The problem isn’t Waiheke. It is that when you make something absolutely free to the user, they will use it to the max.

Any subsidised transport scheme should be based on income, not age. And it also should be a partial discount, not free. Otherwise you will always get stuf like this.

To put it another way – to put it as bluntly as I can: the Waiheke ferry’s inclusion in the Supergold card’s transport scheme represents an immense subsidy to a tiny group of people, who are almost by definition amongst the most wealthy and privileged group of New Zealanders you could assemble.

Yep. But the problem isn’t including the ferry. It is the entire scheme. If you subsidize public transport, you can’t pick and choose which routes are worthy.

The whole superannuation system is riddled with absurdities – our Deputy PM is both its strongest defender, and a man who collects his Super while also earning well over $300,000 a year.

Yep. All welfare should be targeted at those who need it. Not turned into welfare for everyone.

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