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RAM asks transport comm. to support free buses

RAM media release 6.9.05

RAM asks transport committee to support free buses trial

The Regional Land Transport Committee public hearings today heard a RAM submission promote free & frequent buses across the Auckland region.

RAM is the Residents Action Movement, which gained 90,000 votes and one seat in last year's Auckland Regional Council election. RAM billboards had plugged public transport, and shortly after the election RAM launched a free buses petition.

RAM organiser Grant Morgan said the government had the "wrong priority" of pouring most state money into roads.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) had inherited a public transport plan with "wrong phasing", he said, since it started with rail, whereas only buses could provide a quick and cheap "cut-through" solution to congestion.

Grant Morgan labeled Stagecoach a "parasite on public transport" for demanding more public cash which would help cross-subsidise 100,000 free seats on its British subsidiary megabus.com.

"In RAM's view, the problem is political, not financial or organisational."

For months, RAM has been calling for a large-scale free buses trial. ARTA chief executive Alan Thompson says such a trial would be "very useful", while Manukau mayor Sir Barry Curtis has offered three suburbs to run it on.

"Will you back us up?" Grant Morgan asked the transport committee.

Robyn Hughes, RAM councillor on the ARC, presented transport committee chair Joel Cayford with RAM's 4,000-signature free buses petition. (Photo of petition handover available on request.)

The Roger Fowler sang the RAM free buses song. (Words available on request.)

In an earlier submission, RAM committee member Elaine West detailed RAM's opposition to road tolls.

Other RAM submissions:

* 3.20pm tomorrow (Wednesday 7th) - councillor Robyn Hughes.

* 9.45am Thursday 8th - Roger Fowler, who will be singing a new free buses song.

Grant Morgan's verbal submission is reprinted below.


RAM's verbal submission to
Regional Land Transport Committee


226 individuals from all walks of life have endorsed RAM's written submission to the Regional Land Transport Committee (RLTC).

And RAM's free buses petition was endorsed by 185 prominent & respected Aucklanders (sometimes the same people who endorsed our submission).

Our petition has been signed by over 4,000 people with very little effort on our part.

Institutional supporters of a large-scale free buses trial include Manukau City's transport committee, the Green Party, Cycle Action Auckland, Mangere Community Board, the Tramways Union and Poverty Action Coalition.

What I'm putting before you today aren't the opinions of RAM alone, but express the wishes of a wide constituency.


Peak oil is here/coming. Oil crisis can be seen in soaring oil prices - up 50% from a year ago. Reflected in petrol price hikes - now over $1.50/litre.

Global warming - New Orleans should be a sign to a US president with his head in the bush.

These looming catastrophes could wipe out human life within a few generations unless urgent international action is taken. To be responsible global citizens, we must declare war on Auckland's congestion, the prime source of CO2 emissions and oil use.

Instead of tinkering at the edges of congestion, as we've done up to now, we need a cut-through strategy to beat congestion. Phase 1 - free & frequent buses. Phase 2 - emphasise rail.


The benefits of free & frequent buses:

* QUICK - "We can start looking forward to less congestion in a year or twoŠ" (Tony Waring's submission to RLTC). Whereas ARTA is looking 25 or more years ahead to rail gaining just a quarter of public transport passengers.

* CHEAP - Northern Employers & Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson insists that $16 billion must be spent on new roading in Auckland (Newstalk ZB 11.8.05). That's enough to buy thousands of electric buses and run them free for four decades or more.

* DEMOCRATIC - Regardless of income, car ownership and geography (e.g. closeness to rail), everyone will be able to travel wherever they want with free & frequent buses. This will foster more community spirit, as compared to the social alienation of the car culture. So it's a fair & democratic alternative.


Despite the oil crisis, global warming and Auckland's car chaos, the government's spending priority is roads. That's a wrong priority.

Transport minister Pete Hodgson (in a speech to Contractors Federation 4.8.05):

Since Labour took office, there's been a 10-fold increase in Auckland road spending, Snapshot: $1.3 billion on major works underway or recently completed.

"Funding for public transport in New Zealand this year, counting everything, is a quarter of a billion dollars."

The minister said the 10-year road spending forecast in 2004 was $18.7 billion, now it's $22.3 billion. This $3.6 billion rise in one year represents a 19% lift in tarseal expenditure.

This $3.6 billion could have bought several thousand electric buses and run them for free for a decade or two - thus cutting through congestion, instead of building more roads to grow more cars.


Bus operating subsidy $50 million, 43 million trips in 2004/05. Rail $20 million, 3.4 million trips. (Draft RLTS, September 2005.) So rail operating subsidy per passenger/trip is currently five times greater than bus.

ARTA rail report August 2005: A "reasonable goal" for rail is a 25% share of passenger transport journeys. This will require "a sustained financial commitment over many yearsŠ of significantly greater magnitude than the investment that has been made so far".

So the lion's share of funding (both OpEx and CapEx) is going on rail, which ARTA says will only grow to 25% of total passenger transport journeys.

RAM believes that ARTA has inherited a public transport plan whose phasing is wrong.

In the long term, rail is the most sustainable transport mode - but it's costly & time-consuming to build.

The first phase should be free & frequent buses, funded by a shift of government transport money away from road building.

Once free & frequent buses have significantly lowered the number of cars on Auckland roads, then go to phase two: rail construction.


Following Manukau City's transport committee voting to support RAM's free buses petition, mayor Sir Barry Curtis offered three Manukau suburbs for a free buses trial.


ARTA chief executive Alan Thompson told RAM that "we think it will be very useful to investigate the free bus model".

Thompson's email to RAM 15.8.05:

"Re the RAM free bus proposal, a key issue for ARTA for 2005/06 is 'budget', especially given the two rounds of 'commercial deregistrations' by Stagecoach. These deregistrations are imposing enormous burdens on our OpEx funding, and the budgets of our funders. This means that other initiatives such as those you have suggested are not feasible in 2005/06. In the longer term we think it will be very useful to investigate the free bus model primarily in relation to inner urban/expanded CBD services."


Stagecoach media release 24.8.05:

Megabus.com, Stagecoach's British inter-city bus service, is offering 100,000 free seats to attract tourists back to London in the wake of the terrorist bombings.

Stagecoach's free seats in Britain are being cross-subsidised by Stagecoach's demands for more public subsidies in Auckland.

Meanwhile, Stagecoach opposes RAM's free buses.

We can't even get integrated ticketing with Stagecoach refusing to lose any control over the cashbox.

Draft RLTS, September 2005: Transport companies' joint venture AITL submitted an "integrated ticketing" proposal to ARTA. "However, it is clear that this proposal will not deliver a fully integrated fares system."

Stagecoach is a parasite on public transport in Auckland. Sustainable public transport requires public, not private, ownership.


ARC chair Mike Lee: "We have a rail network sitting there - it's imperative we use it to the maximum." (Herald 16.8.05.)

RAM agrees with Mike's logic - and also extends it to the road network "sitting there" ready for bus priority lanes and free & frequent buses.


In RAM's view, the problem is political, not financial or organisational.

We have the money - but it's going on roads.

We have the public transport planners - but they're consumed by rail.

Bus operations are controlled by private companies motivated by private profit - not the public good.

The roads are there - but the expansion of bus lanes is pitifully slow.

So the means are there - but the political will is sadly lacking.

RAM's challenge to the RLTC - will you provide the political will to turn Auckland into a public transport region?

In RAM's view, that means:

* Pressuring the government to reverse its road funding priority and to provide supportive legislation for public ownership of buses.

* Supporting RAM's call for a large-scale free buses trial. The ARTA chief executive says such a trial would be "very useful", while the Manukau mayor has offered three suburbs for a trial. Will you back us up?



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