Public transport fares have been a hot topic this year following Auckland Transports announcement in January that they were putting them up again to cover increasing costs, in part because more people are using PT. Increasing fares at the same time as we want a lot more people to use public transport isn’t a great strategy and in March, our friends at Generation Zero called for AT to freeze fares and for the NZTA to review their farebox policy. As part of this they also suggested some targeted ways fares could be reduced.
The Council, championed by Councillor Chris Darby, have been looking at these and other options to see what could be done to lower fares. Todd Niall at Stuff reports:
Aucklanders could enjoy cheaper public transport trips from early next year under a plan to be decided soon by councillors.
Three ideas, including free weekend travel for under-15s, have emerged from wider work aimed at boosting patronage, and make public transport more accessible.
Other proposals are to accelerate the introduction of cheaper ferry fares if combined with a bus or train trip, and offering a bigger discount to students.
The plan canvassed by councillors at a workshop on Tuesday, could lift patronage by 1.3 million trips a year, and cost $2.8 million.
Allowing under-15s to travel free on weekends would lose revenue of $643,000 but could generate 989,000 additional trips.
A proposal to lift the student discount from 20 per cent to 25 per cent would cost $1.69m but could add 124,000 trips
Providing discounted ferry fares, where they connect with a bus or train trip for electronic card users, would cost $502,000 but could add 180,000 journeys.
Ferry Fare Integration is technically possible now, but hadn’t been planned for another couple of years.
It’s not clear just how deep the analysis goes and whether the ‘lost revenue’ and extra trips takes into account that there is likely to be additional revenue from more parents travelling with their kids who are doing so for free.
Based on a quick back of the envelope calculation, the under 15s travelling for free option is also a really good example of how distorted many of the conversations around transport are. For example, building more park & ride is often touted as a great way to get more people using PT so let’s compare that. Spending $643k annually over a 30-year period (not including inflation) is $19.2 million and would generate just under 30 million trips. Instead, let’s say you could front load that and spend it all immediately. That could allow you to build about 965 at grade carparks, many fewer if a carparking building – this also doesn’t include operational costs like lights, cleaning etc. Assuming each carpark will generate about 2 trips per working day that means about 480k trips a year and about 14.5 million over a 30 year period. In other words, if our goal is to increase PT ridership, we get about twice the return on doing it this way than we would by putting it into parking.
We could also compare that to ATs subsidised taxi/rideshare trial in Devonport which is costing them $1.3 million and has just hit a record of 838 people in a week. By comparison the 989k extra trips for the under 15s would be adding just over 19k per week.
Some of the other options considered are also listed in Todd’s article:
A long list of patronage-boosting ideas remain on a future ‘to-do’ list, but many are much more expensive.
Free weekend and public holiday travel would cost more than $19m, generating an additional 3.5 million trips.
Another patronage-booster would be capping the amount that could be spent in one day – effectively an unlimited day pass – which could cost $6.43m but add 1.69 million trips.
I hope there was more to the long list than just these two, e.g. off-peak discounts, weekly caps, concessions for those on low incomes etc.
Based on this information, there does seem to be an element of what’s cheapest instead of what provides the best outcome in all of this. A quick calculation of the cost per extra ride generated shows that the student option is the most expensive by far. This is shown below.
|Proposal||Cost per added trip|
|Under 15s free on weekends||$0.65|
|Ferry fare integration||$2.79|
|Free Weekends and public holidays||$5.43|
|Increased student discount||$13.63|
It’s not clear what the next steps are for this. Any extra funding to implement any of these would likely need to come from council or the government. However, despite learning in April that the NZTA were reviewing their farebox recovery policy, there’s no word on if or when it will change.
Even if NZTA does drop the farebox recovery policy, there might not be much available funding to help pay for services or fares. This is because, as I found out in my recent OIA of NZTA, about $200 million of cost of the Northern Busway Extension has been moved out of the state highways funding bucket, where it previously sat, and into the fund used to pay for public transport services and smaller PT improvements like bus lanes. At the very least this project should be funded from the Rapid Transit activity class, especially given they don’t appear to be doing much to deliver light rail.
Hopefully it is something that we’ll hear more about soon, including with some more depth along with how the council and NZTA will fund it.