Trains and buses packed as half-price public transport comes into effect
KEVIN STENT / Stuff
Rail commuters in Wellington took advantage of half-price public transport fares on Monday morning.
Millions more people would use Wellington’s public transport if a three-month half-fare system continued for a year, a regional councilor has said.
The government-funded initiative, which began on Monday, will take place from April to June. It was announced alongside a drop in fuel prices in mid-March.
Buses and trains in the capital were noticeably busier on opening day.
Wellington is average in terms of global accessibility of public transport – 26th in the world for bus affordability and 53rd for train affordability.
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International examples show that reduced fares have an impact on commuters’ transport decisions. When the Estonian capital, Tallinn, made public transport free in 2013, usage increased by 14%.
Greater Wellington Regional Councilor Thomas Nash said the half-price fares were a good move and that “millions more people” would use public transport in Wellington if it continued for a year.
He hoped the initiative would continue in the future, but said Greater Wellington would not be able to fund it on its own.
“There is no way to pay for it with tariffs at the moment. People are struggling to pay the fares as they are,” he said.
On Monday morning, commuters said they barely noticed the discount because it was automatically removed from their Snapper card. It now costs only $7.52 to travel in all bus zones.
those who talk to Thing said it was hard to tell if the buses were fuller than usual – some were packed, while others were just at their usual early morning capacity.
Train riders will benefit the most from half-price fares. A one-month pass from Johnsonville to Wellington Station is reduced to $57, down from $114. Metlink Explorer day passes, which allow people to hike any route in one day, are reduced to $12.50 from $25.
Anirudh Sangar takes the train from Johnsonville to work every day. It was easier to get to places where public transport was cheaper.
Capital Connection’s monthly fares between Palmerston North and Wellington are reduced to $414.50 from $829.
Katja Isaksen worked from her home in Manawatū as much as she could because transportation costs were “very expensive”. It would be great if the half-price rates lasted longer than three months, she said.
For Alice Midgley, from Hutt Valley, the reduced price would not affect how often she traveled to town, but “it does help with the bills”.
She estimated the train was about 50% busier than normal, but said there were still seats for everyone.
Pauline Calloch, who usually spends around $50 a week on bus and train tickets, hadn’t realized the fares were falling. She said the extra $25 a week would be nice, but she was lucky that it wasn’t money she particularly needed.
Eva Sampson managed to time her first drive from Wellington to Porirua for a new job with the half price fares. “It’s a little better,” she said.
Let’s Get Wellington Moving has plans for light rail or bus rapid transit through Wellington.
Nash said Greater Wellington had already suffered a drop in revenue as public transport passenger numbers fell at the height of the Omicron outbreak. The additional demand for half-price fares would require more train and bus services, which would increase the cost.
Annual ticket revenue accounted for about $100 million of the area council’s public transportation funding, so the council looked to the government for support to continue half-price fares.
There was a lot of public enthusiasm for cheaper and better public transport, and both were needed to help move cars away, he said.