Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the outcome of their annual fare review and the result is a mixed bag. There are some good structural changes coming to fares but at the same time the cost of catching public transport is going up as a result of the largest fare increases we’ve seen.
Discounted off-peak fares are to become permanent on public transport in Auckland. The permanent ten per cent discount will come in on 7 February. It means cheaper fares for everyone using AT HOP, travelling between 9am and 3pm and at night weekdays and all weekend.
Also from that date, a daily cap will be introduced meaning you can travel as much as you like on buses (not Skybus), trains and inner harbour ferry services and never pay more than $20 a day.
Auckland Transport’s annual fare review will see an average fare increase of four per cent which is consistent with the approach set out during Auckland Council’s consultation on the Emergency Budget last June.
AT’s executive general manager Integrated Networks, Mark Lambert, says around half of all bus and rail passengers will see a maximum increase of 35 cents on a journey using their HOP card. “This year’s fare review is about balancing improvements in value for passengers through new and in some cases reduced fares, improving services where there is demand and balancing use of the public subsidy within the Council Emergency Budget. We’ve tried to keep any general increases as low as possible to encourage people to use public transport given the impacts to numbers since Covid. During Covid we trialled reduced off-peak fare prices and we are making that permanent to encourage people to travel when buses and trains are a little quieter.” Mr Lambert says savings of $10 million have been made through a very small number of service reductions and delaying planned improvements.
There are a few things to break down here so let’s start with the positive.
It’s great to see AT making off-peak fares permanent and is something we’ve wanted to see AT introduce for a long time. As they mention, they’ve trialled them during lockdowns and I understand the impact was positive.
There are a couple of nit-picky issues I have with them though.
- Only a 10% discount seems a little light. Overseas discounts of 20-30% are more common but this is something they hopefully work up towards.
- Having to complete your journey before 6am seems a little early. My understanding is there is normally quite a quite a bit of capacity in the 6-7am window and so extending that slightly might be worthwhile. Likewise, the 6:30pm timeframe suggests that people on long commutes, such as to Swanson or Pukekohe, could board a train at peak times and qualify – though perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
The addition of daily caps is another welcome change and for one thing, it will make exploring Auckland by PT easier.
Again to be a little bit nit-picky:
- Our PT network is strongest in and around the city centre but you’d have to make a lot of trips to get to $20 in a day. So it would be great to see a couple of tiers for this depending on the maximum number of zones you’ve travelled through, say a cap of $10 if you only travel through a maximum of two zones in the day or something like that.
- It would also be great to see weekly and/or monthly caps put in place.
After the two positive changes above, we get to the announcement that’s not so great, the fare increases.
As noted by AT, the average increase is 4%, however, I think these are the largest set of increases I’ve seen. For people making some of the most common trips, such as 1 and 2 zones, the increase is 10%, for Adults at least.
Here are the adult and child bus and train fares.
I’ve also created this graph to highlight how fares have changed since integrated fares were introduced in mid-2016. Since they were introduced, 2-zone fares have increased by over 25%, or $0.80 per trip.
This is clearly not an ideal outcome and reminds me of that that saying “The
beatings fare increases will continue until morale ridership improves“.
Only ridership won’t improve and it is estimated the changes will result in a 0.7% reduction in PT usage. That doesn’t sound like a lot but based on pre-covid ridership levels represents over 700,000 trips. That is presumably to go with the roughly 30% drop in usage as a result of COVID.
Perhaps a bigger issue than that is it will contribute even more towards putting off non-PT users trying services. It is critical that we get lots of new users on PT if we’re to see AT playing its part towards Auckland’s Climate Plan and to help in addressing congestion. This becomes even more important if we were to implement road pricing as PT fares that are too expensive will lead many to treat PT as too expensive and therefore not a viable alternative.
While it is of course easy to blame AT for these changes, I do appreciate they’re somewhat between a rock and a hard place when it to comes costs and funding. We really need the government to step up here and help provide more funding to keep PT viable, especially if they’re serious about the recently declared climate emergency and also because of the additional requirements still in force for COVID.
Finally, perhaps AT need to start thinking more holistically about how they change PT fares. By that I mean perhaps they should look to change other transport costs, such as for parking, at the same time. That way it provides better context to the wider transport discussion and looks less like AT are just trying to discourage PT use.
The new fares come in from 7 February.