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Free Fares Campaign Urges Government To Value Public Transport In The GPS

According to public transport advocates, the current Government’s approach to land transport is out of touch with the priorities of regular New Zealanders and the reality of cost-of-living pressures.

Last week the Ministry of Transport released the Draft Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS). Antonio Salamat, researcher for the Free Fares campaign, says, “What we see in this document is a preference for roading over public transport, and transport infrastructure is primarily seen as a means for economic growth rather than a solution to reduce our emissions and support New Zealanders with the cost-of-living. This approach is ultimately harmful for our environment and communities.”

A notable proposal in the Draft GPS is to increase fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Hana Pilkinton-Ching, Vice-President of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, says, “At the same time as proposing to increase the cost of private transport, the Government is increasing the cost of public transport for families, students, and young people by removing the under-25 discounts introduced last year. This is a double whammy which will push those who are already struggling to get by each week into transport poverty.”

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A poll by Horizon Research in November 2023 found that more than 70% of New Zealanders support retaining current public transport discounts, including a majority of National and NZ First voters. “This Government does not have public mandate to remove the transport discounts that we now depend on. This Draft GPS and the removal of public transport discounts are out of touch with what is important to New Zealanders.” says Pilkinton-Ching.

Another feature of the Draft GPS is a strategic priority for local government to increase public transport fare box recovery, which means that fares should cover a greater proportion of public transport operation costs. Otago Regional Councilor Elliot Weir says, “Increasing fares will only push people away from public transport, and will not meaningfully increase revenue. Councils have been struggling financially for years and this is just an opportunity for the government to shirk its responsibility further, leaving it up to councils to try (and fail) to pick up the pieces.”

The Draft GPS is open for submissions until April 2nd, and the Government currently plans to remove half price fares for under-25s and free fares for tamariki at the end of April. The Free Fares campaign are calling for the Government to prioritise public transport in the GPS, and retain current public transport discounts with the goal of moving towards free public transport for target groups.

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