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Night Bus, Cash Fare, Metlink On Demand Changes Agreed By Greater Wellington

Following a deep decline in patronage, After Midnight bus services will eventually be replaced by services added to regular Metlink bus routes with operating hours extended earlier in the morning and later at night.

Greater Wellington councillors have enabled the change by agreeing to remove reference to the region’s 10 After Midnight bus routes from the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).

Council chair Daran Ponter says as patronage fell, After Midnight services were reviewed with safety group the Pōneke Promise and the community.

“The safety of passengers and drivers is our top priority. But with so few people using night buses it’s clear we need to replace them with services that maintain public safety while better serving passenger needs,” Cr Ponter says.

Patronage on After Midnight services, which run on Saturday and Sunday mornings between 1:00am and 4.30am, has fallen 76 percent since 2006, from about 57,500 to 13,500 per year.

Despite recent advertising campaigns and fare reductions, After Midnight services currently only average about six passengers per bus. Patronage on many night buses falls below the RPTP threshold for sufficient demand, set at ‘Minimum regular use of 4+ passengers per trip’.

Feedback from passengers, community organisations and Metlink’s Public Transport Advisory Group indicates a preference for later and earlier services on regular routes at times better suited for shift workers as well as late night entertainment patrons.

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Metlink will widely publicise any changes to night buses before they take effect. A phased approach will be taken to replacing After Midnight services, starting with Wellington city routes N1, N2, N3, N4 and N5 from October 2024.

Another change to the RPTP agreed today, is the establishment of a unit for the Metlink On Demand bus service currently being trialled in Tawa.

This follows the passing of the Land Transport Management (Regulation of Public Transport) Amendment Act 2023, which expands the definition of public transport to include unscheduled (on-demand) public transport and shuttle services.

Transport Committee chair Thomas Nash says establishing the unit now will help with upcoming decisions on the future of the Metlink On Demand trial, which has been extended to December.

“We know Metlink On Demand is popular with the community. It operates in areas without scheduled buses, where passengers hail rides through our app to access train stations, shops, the hospital and other services.

“Council still needs to assess the success of the trial but if we want to make Metlink On Demand permanent in the future, it needs to be a unit in the RPTP to attract government support through the National Land Transport Fund.”

Also at today’s meeting, regional councillors agreed to progressively phase out cash payments for fares onboard Metlink trains and buses.

The phase out will begin after the introduction of the National Ticketing Solution (NTS), expected in Wellington in late 2025.

The NTS will allow passengers to pay fares with credit and debit cards as well as pre-paid public transport cards.

“Cash related crime is a major safety concern for our frontline workers. To protect our bus drivers and train staff – we need to start planning to phase out cash,” Cr Nash says.

Only four percent of Metlink fares are currently paid onboard in cash, and it is estimated just one to two percent of passengers consistently pay fares in cash onboard.

A strategy to phase out onboard cash fares will be developed to provide for the needs of cash reliant passengers, including through targeted engagement, and on the ground promotion of alternative ticketing solutions. Cash will still be accepted by retailers to buy and top-up public transport cards.

“We’ll do everything we can to help passengers transition to contactless payment methods, which continue to be 25 percent cheaper than onboard cash fares, easing the cost burden on our vulnerable communities,” Cr Nash says.

“Metlink has already started removing cash from our express bus services and future changes will be made in a careful, clearly communicated and systematic way.”

Cash fares will begin to be phased out onboard trains when NTS ticket vending machines that accept cash are installed at most major stations.

Onboard buses, cash fares will be progressively phased out on a route-by-route basis once an agreed set of criteria is developed through the RPTP.

Greater Wellington councillors also agreed today to introduce journey based daily and weekly fare caps when the NTS is implemented in the region.

“Fare capping makes public transport more attractive by effectively offering free travel after you've taken a set number of daily or weekly journeys. It's a great way to encourage public transport use and has proven very successful and popular in lots of other cities and regions,” Cr Nash says.

“Metlink Explorer Day passes and 30-Day passes will be replaced by fare capping, giving similar discounts to all passengers not just those who can afford passes.”

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