In March last year, shortly after Russia launched its horrific invasion of Ukraine, the government cut fuel taxes, road user charges and public transport fares “as part of a cost of living package“.
PT fares were halved while fuel taxes dropped by 25 cents per litre (almost 29 cents once you include GST) and initially were only meant to last for three months. However, over a year and a number of extensions later, those discounts end tomorrow – which is of course seeing a bit of a rush on petrol stations.
The impact on public transport usage of half-priced fares has been hard to assess. Public transport usage has recovered to around 75-80% of pre-COVID levels but most research suggests the impact of the fare discounts has only had a modest impact. This is unsurprising given that they were introduced just as we started to see COVID restrictions eased and over the same time, public transport quality has been atrocious thanks to the bus driver and ferry crew shortage as well as the ongoing issues with the rail network. As we reported yesterday, user satisfaction with PT is near rock-bottom levels with just 23% of people expressing satisfaction with the PT system.
Given the apparent limited impact the half-priced fares had, hopefully that means there shouldn’t be too much negative impact on PT usage. Equally, could the fuel price change encourage a few people to get out of their cars and try PT again?
One thing that will help with PT usage (and with people getting around) is that from Saturday, the government’s targeted fare discounts come into effect. This will see discounts for people under 25 or with a Community Services Card.
Auckland’s public transport customers aged under 25 who use a registered HOP card will get the benefit of free or half price fares from Saturday 1 July.
On 30 June, the government’s half price discount on public transport fares will end, and AT will be offering new concessions to customers who are under 25 from Saturday 1 July.
Following the government’s announcement in May on free fares for those aged 5-12 and half price fares for those aged 13-24, AT has worked quickly to implement the new fares, ensuring the complex changes to our AT HOP system are ready to give customers a seamless experience.
AT Metro Optimisation Manager Richard Harrison says rolling out this change ahead of 1 July has been a significant focus for the organisation in recent weeks.
“Half price fares have made a real difference to Aucklanders when they came into play in April 2022 and we are pleased to be able to continue to offer half price fares for 13-24 year olds and to introduce free fares for 5-12 year olds who travel with a registered AT HOP card.
“We’ve spent the past few weeks preparing to implement these changes. The changes aren’t straightforward but we’re confident that come 1 July everyone using a registered AT HOP card will have a seamless transition to the new fares,” says Mr Harrison.
“If you’ve registered your AT HOP card with your date of birth, you don’t need to do anything – just tag on like you normally do and the appropriate fare will be applied.
“Now’s also the perfect time for young people to register their AT HOP card if they haven’t already, so that they don’t miss out on free or discounted travel from 1 July.”
Customers can find out more about the changes at at.govt.nz/farechanges
As noted above, for the child discounts you only need to have a registered HOP card however for the Communty Connect discount you will need to apply for the concession via at.govt.nz/communityconnect or via MSD offices.
Finally, while on the topic of paying for PT trips, AT recently confirmed that within the next year, people will be able to tag on and off debit/credit cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay.
The changes will apply to full fare paying adults. Those wanting to access concession discounts such as Tertiary and SuperGold will still need to use their HOP card as normal.
AT Chief Executive Dean Kimpton says this is the latest in a range of initiatives AT is introducing to make public transport an easier option for Aucklanders, visitors and tourists.
“You won’t need to stress about buying a HOP card, topping it up, or forgetting it. You can just tag on with what you already have in your pocket like in London, New York or Sydney.
“It’s going to make paying for public transport as easy and simple as paying for a coffee, as it should be.”
Mr Kimpton predicts the improvements will lift public transport passenger numbers by between two million and three million trips per year.
“This change is going to make public transport more appealing for more people including tourists, visitors, casual users, and first-time users.
“I see these improvements which will come in next year, helping to push us past 100 million public transport trips per year in 2024 and that is huge.”
“The more people catching public transport, the less emissions, the less traffic, and the easier and safer it is for us to move around our city.”
It is estimated that the improvements will cost approximately $23 million. Introducing this solution now provides numerous benefits for customers, the environment and the city as a whole.
The improvements are a step towards plans to see the National Ticketing Solution (NTS) introduced across the motu by 2026. By getting Aucklanders using contactless payments for public transport now, the transition to NTS will be smoother and involve much less change for customers.
This functionality was meant to come years ago but was stopped due to uncertainty over what was happening with the National Ticketing System, that was finalised last year. It was also announced at that time that Auckland would likely get this feature in advance of the national solution and presumably it will help ease the transition to that is introduced, likely in 2026.