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No mana in undermining free public transport

Media release
VAN -- Valley Action Network
17 September, 2007

No mana in undermining free public transport

Valley Action Network is disappointed, but not surprised, by the actions of Mana Coach Services in undermining the first free bus service in the Wellington region.

Last Tuesday's meeting of the Passenger Transport Committee of Greater Wellington Regional Council was expected to approve a free bus service for Kapiti Coast commuters who hold monthly train passes.

Instead, it received a brief report from Council Transport Planner Yvonne Gwyn. The report said the free bus trial would not go ahead because Mana Coaches would not cooperate.

"Free public transport is an idea whose time has come", said VAN organiser Grant Brookes. "Spending ever more transport dollars building more roads for more cars, in an age of climate change and rising oil prices, is crazy.

"The sensible alternative is free and frequent public transport, spelled out today in the release of VAN's transport policy. This is what we'll be pursing if we're elected to Hutt City Council.

"Other cities like Invercargill and Christchurch, with less developed public transport systems, have free buses. Why not here?

"The actions of Mana Coach Services, however, highlight the need to look at ownership and control of public transport at the same time", commented Grant. "Clearly, private transport companies can't be relied on to be sensible.

"The Regional Council is buying new trains. Why not publicly-owned buses, too?"

VAN's policy of Free and Frequent Public Transport, reprinted below, is the fourth of six policy releases to be made before next month's local body elections.

The six policies are:

* A Human City -- Putting people before big business interests
* A Green City -- Action on climate change. Zero tolerance for polluters
* Grassroots Democracy -- Community Boards for all, with extra powers
* Rates Justice -- Reductions based on need. Residents before greedy corporations
* Free Council Services -- Not just protected but extended
* Free and Frequent Public Transport -- It makes climate sense and serves the people.

More information on these policies can be found on the VAN website, www.huttvan.org.nz.


Free and frequent public transport -- It makes climate sense and serves the people

The burning of oil and other fossil fuels is raising the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and threatening huge climate change. At the same time, peak oil -- the end of the world's cheap oil supplies -- is around the corner. Competition for what's left is fuelling wars. To tackle these major problems facing humanity, new solutions are needed.

In New Zealand cities, the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions is transport -- mainly private motor vehicles.

For Hutt residents, transport is a big issue. A third of the Hutt residents in jobs commute outside the city to get to work. Many more commute for family and social reasons.

Drivers face clogged motorways, frustration and road rage. Roads within Hutt City, too, are choked at peak times. Businesses lose money through the delays.

The Council's solution to these problems is to build more roads. They support plans to spend a billion dollars on a new motorway through Transmission Gully and upwards of $60 million on a new Cross Valley Link.

But more roads encourage more car use and more greenhouse gas emissions. They're a short-term fix for congestion in one place that moves the bottleneck somewhere else. And new charges on motorists, like a regional petrol tax, will be needed to build them.

What's needed is a major push to encourage people into public transport -- particularly into our electrified rail service, which is powered mainly by clean, renewable energy.

Making trains, buses and ferries free would do this, without hitting drivers with new taxes.

Other cities like Christchurch and Invercargill already have some free bus routes. Campaigners in Auckland and Dunedin are pushing to extend this to free and frequent public transport city-wide, like in some European and North American cities.

Fares could be eliminated by diverting a fraction of Wellington's roading budget to public transport. But it's unlikely to happen under current ownership arrangements.

The privatisation of public transport has been a disaster. Private operators have been happy to cream off profits, while the network's been run down.

When major investment is needed to maintain or upgrade the system, they demand hand-outs from the public purse.

The government already owns the railway tracks. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is spending more than $500 million refurbishing the trains, buying new ones and building new stations.

Public subsidies cover around half the annual operating costs for Tranz Metro. Bus operators get two thirds of their income from the public purse.

It makes sense to spend a little extra and take the whole transport network back into public ownership. Then there would be no private operator creaming off profits, and every public dollar could go on reducing fares and improving services.

In 2002, the Regional Council won government backing to buy a half share of Tranz Metro. The deal fell through, mainly due to ideological opposition to public ownership from local councils and business interests.

We say that a fraction of Wellington's roading budget should be used to take public transport back into public ownership and make it free and frequent. It makes climate sense and serves the people.

VAN -- Valley Action Network wants moves towards this by:

* Speaking out in favour of public transport over more road-building in all public forums.

* Scrapping plans to waste millions of ratepayer dollars on a new Cross Valley Link.

* Pressing Greater Wellington Regional Council to bring forward its plans for trains on the Upper Hutt line every 10 minutes at peak times, and every 15 minutes off-peak.

* Linking up with other authorities and campaigners in the region to petition the government for more money for public transport.

* Reviving plans for Greater Wellington Regional Council to buy out private transport operators, and then move to reduce fares towards zero.



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