Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Zealand Greens should join fare-free movement !

The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand is making progress towards adopting free fares as one of its policies. There are still several hurdles to jump, but two have already been crossed successfully and the next stage is likely to start in June, when all members will be invited to join an ‘issue group’. The ‘IG’ will aim to develop a paper (put to conference in February) into a policy for member approval. If approved, the policy could be adopted by March 2010.

Success is by no means assured. It depends who joins the issue group and what influence they have. The more fpt supporters who get involved, the better the chances.

The essential case is that the Kiwi transport takes a much higher proportion of the oil supply than most countries, has an unusually low level of public transport use and that, to achieve Green climate change and peak oil policies, public transport has to take a much bigger share. Fares are a significant disincentive to that. Often it’s cheaper to drive. Furthermore, the hassle of buying a fare and the time taken to do the transaction create further disincentives. In terms of cost, abolishing fares would not greatly increase the current subsidy to public transport and savings would be made on road schemes from congestion relief and on the health costs of crashes.

The case against is that Wellington, the most successful public transport system in the country, also has amongst the highest proportion of costs met by fares. The few free services don’t attract many more passengers than the fare paying services. Several generations have been used to thinking of cars as the only form of transport and very few have heard of the concept of free fares, and even fewer given it much thought. Most still think of public transport as a social service, rather than an environmental necessity, and the quality of speed and frequency reflect that. The Auckland to Wellington train takes half an hour longer than the bus. Many large settlements have no bus.

Having free fares as a Green policy will bring the concept to many more people, but there will still be a long way to go to get the policy implemented. Any help would be welcome.

- J.L., New Zealand Greens