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The Free Fares Campaign Urges The Government To Address The Gaps Left By The New Fare Discounts In Budget 2023

With half-price public transport ending on the 30th of June and people needing more time to adjust to the discounts announced in Budget 2023, New Zealanders will be left in the lurch and the government needs to step-up to prevent the policy from failing, says Public Transport advocacy group Free Fares.

“With councils only just having prepared the infrastructure, and some still working on it, there has been little opportunity for people to adjust to these new discounts,” says Mika Hervel, a student spokesperson for Free Fares. “There has not been enough time for councils and people to prepare, and proper promotion of how to access the new discounts. Without those new concessions properly accessible, the government will just be pushing public transport prices up and those who are eligible will miss out.”

“The half-price fares policy has been fantastic for the climate and for addressing the cost of living crisis. These issues have not gone away, so why should the half-price policy?” says Kate Day, a mother of two and spokesperson for the campaign. “Public transport use has been significantly encouraged during the length of this policy. According to Waka Kotahi, in June 2022, 4% of all New Zealanders used public transport instead of cars because of half price fares. Among public transport users, one third used public transport more often and 15% had switched from cars because of half price fares.” (Waka Kotahi research note, p. 19)

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“Without addressing the concerns raised and expanding the scheme, more people will struggle and more people will shift back to private transport,” says Hervel. “Half-price public transport has eased hardship during the cost of living crisis. It has enabled people to see their families more often and improved access to medical care and education, relieving stress and reducing financial hardship. High inflation, which prompted the policy, still remains an issue and we know that it disproportionately affects people with lower incomes.”

“It is unfair that a policy like half-price fares, which is much needed relief, is being wound up. It's senseless to have fare prices go up on the 30th of June, and then back down again when councils are able to implement the concessions. The government has a responsibility here to make sure their concessions from Budget 2023 are implemented smoothly,” says Day.

“We need to lock in those new public transport habits and build on them, not send people back to their cars. Keeping half-price public transport, or at least extending it until councils have had time to implement and promote the new discounts and people have had time to adjust is an easy solution to this problem,” says Hervel.

The Free Fares campaign is also calling for the government to include all students in the Community Connect scheme. On Monday, student presidents from around the country sent an open letter to the Minister of Transport, requesting that students are included in Community Connect and that half-price fares are urgently extended until accessibility to the new discounts is ensured.

“Students are often on low-incomes, and many will miss out on the new concessions when half-price fares end,” says Hervel. “Roughly half of all tertiary students are over the age of 25 and will not qualify for reduced fares due to their age. (Tertiary students in New Zealand (2022): Often students who would qualify under the Community Services Card are unable to get concessions because of the bureaucratic hurdles to accessing the scheme.”

“Many students on a loan do not know they are eligible for a Community Services Card, and the process is more complex than needed. These challenges limit access and the Ministry of Social Development has no plan to overcome that. Including students as a specific category cuts through unnecessary bureaucracy and fills a big gap left by the current discounts.”

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