Two of New Zealand's largest unions call for fare-free public transport in Auckland

Two of the country's largest unions have called for "fare-free" public transport in Auckland to help ease pressure on struggling Kiwis amid the cost of living crisis. 

First Union and the Public Service Association released a 40-page report on Monday, looking at the feasibility of free public transport in Auckland. 

The report says with the cost-of-living crisis and rising petrol price, fare-free public transport is a key part in alleviating pressure on working class families as well as helping Auckland recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Government brought in the three-month price cut in March in response to the soaring cost of petrol thanks to the war in Ukraine.

"With the cost-of-living crisis and rising petrol prices hammering working people, half-price fares resulted in an immediate boost in public transport ridership," Assistant general secretary of FIRST Union Louisa Jones said. 

"Fare-free public transport is a key part of how we alleviate pressure on working class families, and kickstart Tāmaki Makaurau's recovery from the pandemic.

Bringing in fare-free public transport, it will help keep bus drivers safe, Jones said.

"Driver assaults have been on the rise, and any driver will tell you that the cost of fares is one of the most common factors in driver assaults.

"For drivers, fare-free public transport means a safer working environment, as well as the mana that comes along with providing a quality public service for the community."

FIRST Union is the largest bus driver union in the country, as well as representing tens of thousands of low-income workers from across the private sector.

"This research shows that fare-free public transport is a pragmatic way to address the challenge of urban inequality, meet ambitious emissions targets and attract riders back to public transport after lifting COVID-19 restrictions," author of the report associate professor Jen McArthur said.

"Going fare-free gives an immediate boost to patronage by taking away financial barriers."

Dr McArthur said by introducing fare-free, it can dramatically help improve access to public transport.

"Boston's pilot scheme increased patronage by 23 percent in one year and improved travel times by reducing the waiting time at stops by 20 percent. 95 percent of riders who benefited from free fares were from 'transit critical' populations who are low income, people of colour, seniors, people with disabilities or those with limited access to a car," Dr McArthur said.

"The evidence for the benefits of fare-free public transport is clear, showing that when it is implemented in conjunction with continued investment and service expansion it can dramatically improve access to public transport. The timing is right for Tāmaki Makaurau - it is now up to Aucklanders and politicians to take the debate forward."

Auckland Mayoral Candidate Efeso Collins also supported the idea. 

"This robust international research shows fares-free public transport is an important and viable policy for Auckland," Collins said.

"It demonstrates that we can learn from what's been done overseas to implement a policy that is a triple-win: easing the cost of living, reducing congestion, and being good for the planet.

"Fares-free public transport, alongside improvements to the network and frequency of services, is a key commitment of my campaign to be Mayor and I look forward to further discussions about it on the back of this excellent research."