What will this cost?
In truth, this is difficult to estimate, and we cannot be exactly sure what something like this will cost. We know in some regions, such as Wellington, fares make up approximately a quarter of total public transport funding, and some of that money would need to come from elsewhere if public transport is made free for students, community service card holders, total mobility card holders and their support people and under 25s. Central government would need to work out the answer to this question with the modelling, experts, research and data they already have access to. However, we do know that other countries and places, like Luxembourg and Tallinn in Estonia have made public transport free for their people. The money for this exists and it would be possible to do this, it is simply a matter of priorities. Is our Government going to prioritise the needs of our most vulnerable communities and act quickly and decisively to respond to the climate emergency they declared, or will they just make excuses about how much it might cost them?
We do know that the half-price fare discount in 2022 has resulted in a 50% increase in ridership in Auckland and a 30% increase in ridership in Wellington. This discount cost an estimated $25 to $40 million. It is estimated that making fares completely free for everyone could cost an approximately $320 million a year. To put that in perspective, the three-month fuel tax cut cost the Government $350 million. A year of free public transport could cost less than a three month fuel tax cut. Fare reductions are very affordable, its is more a matter of political will than financial viability.
Who will pay for it?
We are asking central government to fund this through the budget.
Why have you only chosen students, community service card holders and under 25s?
These target groups have been chosen because they are the groups who often rely on public transport the most, and are most likely to be unable to afford it. Having a just transition to a climate-friendly society and economy means prioritising those who are most vulnerable to big shifts in society, and supporting them through those changes. For many low-income households, transport makes up 28% of their household income, whereas for people in the highest income groups, it only makes up 8% of household income. For students and people on low incomes, spending $40-$70 a week on transport via bus trips and train tickets is simply not viable, and leads to a lack of access to education, employment and other services like GPs and dentists. For under 25s, getting young people used to public transport as the norm is a great way to lessen our reliance on private vehicles in future. We also know that in NZ, the biggest users of public transport are young people aged 15 and under, followed by 16-30 year olds. A trail in the Bay of Plenty which made buses free for children increased ridership by 40%. These groups are some of the biggest users, who need it the most but are most likely to face barriers to accessing it, so making it free for them is a no-brainer from an equity standpoint.
Will this really reduce emissions?
Yes, making public transport free for these target groups will reduce emissions. Two important ways we measure this are by measuring increases in public transport patronage, and by measuring the increase in users who would otherwise have travelled by car. The SuperGold card gives us some good statistics for this. The SuperGold card, which allows over 65s to travel for free on public transport during off-peak hours, saw an estimated 55% of card holders use public transport more often, and an estimated 1.4 million trips were made by public transport where they would have otherwise been made by car. Measuring household transport emissions and regional transport emissions is another good indicator of how free public transport could reduce emissions. If we know that increasing patronage and preventing car trips is how free public transport reduces emissions, the question we really need to be asking is whether making public transport free increases ridership. And here we can clearly see, from NZ and overseas examples, that making public transport free does indeed increase patronage.
We need more frequent public transport, not free public transport, why don’t you campaign for that instead?
Public transport can definitely be improved in multiple ways, and having a high frequency of buses/trains is very important as well. Particularly in more rural locations like Nelson, waiting up to an hour because you missed a bus can be a barrier for people to use public transport. However, in many of NZs more urban places, it is cost which is the main barrier for low income individuals, not frequency. This is evidenced by the fact that ridership increases when public transport is made free. However, it is important for public transport to be made frequent as well as free. These two go hand in hand. Investing in frequent public transport services works better when you know those services will be used, which they will if public transport is made free. And making public transport free will increase demand, which will also require more investment in public transport infrastructure. The reason we are campaigning on free instead of frequent is because from an equity standpoint, free public transport has the potential to radically change peoples lives for the better. But we want to see both free and frequent public transport, and acknowledge that these go together.
How can you say you are a ‘Free Fares’ campaign? Someone has to pay for it, so it’s not really free after all, is it?
Nothing is truly free, and free public transport would need to be funded somehow, and the money to fund it would need to come from somewhere. This could come from a specific transport funding source, such as the Emissions Reduction Plan. This plan spends money from the Emissions Trading Scheme, which collects money from polluting industries. Another potential funding avenue could be the Land Transport Fund, which is a pool of money collected from fuel taxes dedicated to investing in cleaner, greener transport. Some people might argue that fuel taxes disproportionately harm low income individuals, to which you could reply that if they had a free public transport option then they would not have to labour under fuel taxes. Free Fares might also be funded through the emissions reduction plan, or some other fund, but ultimately taxes would be used to fund it. But would you not like your taxes to be used to fund transport options for young people or people who struggle to access transport? Free public transport not only reduces inequality and emissions, but also allows for access to education, social services, businesses and employment. Surely when everyone is enabled the opportunity to be educated and participate in society, we are better off as a nation?
What do you mean by ‘public transport’?
Public transport refers to train, bus and other regular domestic and local travel services. It would not include things like planes or luxury travel.
More questions coming soon…