Thousands sign petition to 'freeze fares' after Auckland Transport hikes prices

A petition demanding Auckland Transport (AT) 'freeze the fares' has been signed by thousands of people in the wake of a price increase.

This week AT announced bus, train and ferry fares will rise by 2 percent to cover the cost of more Aucklanders using public transport.

The news has been met with outrage by Kiwis, and prompted climate change non-profit Generation Zero to start a 'Freeze the Fares' petition which attracted more than 1300 signatures in its first 24 hours.

AT provided Newshub with a summary from the board's December funding meeting.

Spokesperson Mark Hannan told Newshub the paper "makes it pretty clear" that AT tried hard to avoid a fare increase, seeking funding from Auckland Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) without success.

Auckland director of Generation Zero Leroy Beckett says that's a shame. 

"Given that the board and executive of AT, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Minister of Transport Phil Twyford have all indicated their openness to change, it is disappointing that the fare increase still went ahead," he told Newshub.

"Auckland is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. Our public transport system shouldn't add to that, it should be for everyone.

"The AT board themselves tried to stop this price rise; this reflects the fact it will seriously reduce patronage and hurt Aucklanders."

AT finds itself in something of a catch-22: the more Aucklanders want to catch buses, trains and ferries, the more money it has to pour into expanding the city's transport network.

Generation Zero believes it doesn't have to be that way. Their target is the 'farebox recovery target', introduced in 2010. The policy tries to share service costs equally among transport users, ratepayers and road users by setting a contribution rate users are expected to make to the operating costs.  

That contribution rate is currently 50 percent, which Mr Beckett says is far too high.

"We think the guiding principle from this Government for public transport should be to encourage as many people as possible to take it for the good of our cities and planet, rather than to meet an arbitrary figure for covering costs," he told Newshub.

"By changing or abandoning the farebox recovery target, other funding can be used to cover the increase in operational costs. The current system, where increasing numbers of people using public transport turns out to have a negative effect, is ridiculous."

AT had good reason to want to avoid hiking fares, with simulation modelling predicting a 2 percent fare increase would result in 830,000 fewer passenger trips per year.

The funding update paper concluded that given the "interesting" socio-economic and political climate, early 2019 is not a good time to increase public transport fares.

Factors include "pockets of discontent" over the region's newly redesigned transport network, "significant commentary" over the Regional Fuel Tax's (RFT) impact on low-income families, and the fast-approaching local government elections.

AT believes the RFT has increased demand for public transport, with 2.5 million more trips taken in first four months of the financial year.

The paper also reveals AT is grappling with a forecast budget deficit of $15 million.

Mr Beckett says support for the 'Freeze the Fares' petition is growing quickly.

"It's blown away our expectations," he told Newshub.

"We knew people were upset at the price rises, but I think this shows people are as fed up with the broken system."

Generation Zero wants to organise meetings with AT chief executive Shane Ellison, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Minister of Transport Phil Twyford, to whom the petition is directly addressed.

"We are hopeful there will be a positive resolution, given most of the parties seem to be on board with change and recognise the problem."


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