A few months ago NZTA released its “Draft Farebox Recovery Policy” for comment and submissions. Naturally enough I made a submission, pointing out the stupidity of having a set 50% farebox recovery ratio while accepting the need for better control over the quality of public transport spending. This feeling seemed to be echoed by a number of submitters, in particular the Auckland Regional Council who pointed out that having a “set in concrete” farebox recovery ratio would effectively become the public transport policy.
NZTA certainly took their time over analysing these submissions, and now around six months later they’ve come out with their “National Farebox Recovery Policy”. Somewhat surprisingly, given the submissions, the final policy is actually even worse than the Draft Policy. There’s a lot of fancy fluff talk in the final policy, about how many many things will have to be ‘taken into account when setting farebox policies, but ultimately this is what they have decided upon to be the policy:
The part of the originally proposed policy that had everyone ‘up in arms’ was the requirement that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have 50 percent ratios. Instead of that, the requirement is now that the whole damn country, on average, have a 50 percent ratio.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with the 50 percent idea. Perhaps it is possible and desirable for that to be our farebox recovery level. The point I think many submitters made is that having an arbitrarily set level, based on absolutely no research (for example, most Australian, American and Canadian cities have recovery ratios of well below 50 percent but we hardly say they have terrible public transport because of that), is just stupid. What if a 45% ratio in Auckland, for example, is the level that has the most benefits for public transport users, road users, residents and so forth? Shouldn’t the actual outcome be improving economic efficiency, environmental benefits and improving quality of life (or even something more easy to measure like enhancing accessibility)?
What the new policy does is pretty much say that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are going to have to go even higher than 50%, but that we don’t really know what that level is yet, because it’ll depend on what Invercargill does. The reason I say that what happens in Auckland will depend on what Invercargill does, it because of this graph – which comes from supporting information to the Farebox Recovery Ratio:
As you can see, many areas with smaller towns and cities served with public transport (like Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough and especially Southland) have pretty damn low farebox recovery ratios. This is not surprising, as generally in smaller towns and cities public transport is provided at a very basic level so that people without cars can get around. When that’s your over-riding goal it’s pretty hard to provide it in an efficient way – because you simply don’t get the huge peak hour rush to help subsidise the off-peak times.
So the really stupid thing about this most recent change is not only will the big cities have to up their farebox recovery ratios (potentially by raising fares or cutting services) even higher than 50% to counter-balance the low ratios in smaller towns & cities, but the extent to which the big cities have to do this is dependent upon the extent to which those smaller areas accept fare rises or services cuts. In short, quite absurdly, whatever Auckland’s farebox recovery ratio turns out to have to be, will depend on what happens in Invercargill.
In short, stuff public transport while we go build all our Roads of National (party) significance.
Argh. Looks like the Government Policy Statement is starting to have an impact.