Budget 2023: Chris Hipkins keen for Auckland Transport, Greater Wellington Regional Council to 'get their act together' over free, half-price fares

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is keen for authorities in Auckland and Wellington to "get their act together" so free and half-price public transport fares can be implemented nationwide by next month, as the Government promised in Budget 2023.

The Government announced last month children under 13 years old would ride on public transport free of charge and those aged under 25 would get it half price from July 1, as part of its cost of living package. 

It came after the Government confirmed it was ending the temporary universal half-price public transport, as well as the 25c fuel excise duty and road user charge discounts. 

"Making public transport free for children will make it much easier for kids to get to school and provide relief to household budgets," then-Transport Minister Michael Wood said. "Free fares for under 13s could save $30 per week for the average household of two children."

Since then, however, Auckland Transport and Greater Wellington Regional Council have said they may not have the systems in place to verify passengers' ages by July 1. 

Hipkins, speaking to AM on Tuesday, said most parts of New Zealand would have the systems in place on time.

"It's Auckland and Wellington - the biggest cities with the biggest public transport networks - where we're still in discussions with them about how soon that could be implemented and what might happen in the meantime.

"Obviously, I'd love Auckland and Wellington to be able to get their act together and implement it sooner but we'll continue to talk to them."

Hipkins then denied the Government was "false advertising" by saying the discounts would be in place by July 1.

"I don't agree with your characterisation," he told AM host Ryan Bridge. "I think almost everybody watching this would've, at some point, gone into a shop to buy something that's on special and then had to wait because the shop's run out of stock."

Hipkins also did not agree with Bridge's analogy the Government was "flogging used Hondas in Hutt Valley".

"I think this is a policy that New Zealanders are going to benefit from," the Prime Minister added.

"We obviously want to make sure that we're working through any implementation details to make sure they're actually going to benefit from it as soon as they can."

A statement from Greater Wellington Transport chair Thomas Naish said it was working as fast a possible to implement the changes.

"We need to build a new back-end system for people to register their date of birth to their Snapper card and, while we do this, we are considering extending half price fares until August 1 to make the transition to the Government's new fare discounts as smooth, fair and easy to understand as possible.

"That extension will have a cost for us as a council and the best thing the Government could do is to help us meet this cost with funding support it's indicated is available for implementing the discounts."

Auckland Transport, meanwhile, said it was aiming to have the changes in place by July 1 - but was not yet sure whether this was possible given the complexity of changing its systems.

"Our teams at Auckland Transport are working hard to implement free travel for under 13s and half price fares for under 25s as quickly as possible," metro optimisation manager Richard Harrison said.

"We expect to have a clearer picture at the end of this week about whether we will be able to introduce these new discounts and fare types from July 1."