The secret's out - bus and train fares will rise

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland train and bus fares will rise next month, hitting thousands of commuters as they return to work from their holidays.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority had hoped to avoid publicity about the rises, posting details on an obscure page on the Auckland Maxx public transport website.

But yesterday it confirmed details to the Herald.

The fare increases have shocked Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who said last night that they would come at a particularly bad time for working people and students.

He was disappointed the authority had not consulted the council.

"What I am concerned about is a cost-plus mentality which I don't believe is adequate for the challenges we face with public transport in Auckland."

The authority was set up by the council at the Government's behest as an operating division.

Mr Lee said that although rail patronage was strong, buses had only just returned to a modest growth and he feared the rises might put some commuters back into cars.

Train passengers face fare rises of between 9.4 per cent and 19 per cent. The average is 15 per cent.

Bus fares will go up an average 7.8 per cent, but the authority says it will remain much cheaper to use trains.

A contributor to the Maxx website's discussion forum, questioning a reference by the transport authority to increased fuel and operating costs, wrote: "How unbelievable! I might have to consider driving now, it'll probably work out cheaper."

But another said he was prepared to pay the new fares, as trains remained significantly cheaper for him than driving.

Although the retail price of diesel fuel is 7.7 per cent lower than when train fares went up in February by an average 10 per cent, it soared to record heights over winter and the transport authority predicts a 21 per cent increase in rail fuel costs for the financial year.

A 32.5 per cent increase in train patronage over the past year and February's price rise has more than doubled revenue to $10.7 million, but the annual cost of running Auckland's passenger rail system is about $60 million.

The transport authority also says it needs to narrow the gap between rail and bus tickets to prepare for integrated fares.

Campaign for Better Public Transport convenor Cameron Pitches said he thought an integrated ticket was years away and he was "bewildered" by the fare rises.

But transport authority chief executive Fergus Gammie said integrated fares were little more than a year away.

He said a daily fare from Papakura to Auckland and back of $12.60 from next month would still be more than three times cheaper than running a car over the same distance.

That figure did not include the extra cost of parking.

The return rail fare from Papakura will be $2.40c less than a bus ticket, but Mr Gammie said the gap would eventually have to be closed.

Fare rises by Stagecoach and other bus firms will include a 10c (6.7 per cent) increase on the central Auckland Link service to $1.60c, and rises of between 7.2 per cent and 8.3 per cent on trips longer than two stages.

The 50c inner-city fare is unchanged.

Fares on Waiheke Island buses, also owned by Stagecoach, will rise by between 6.25 per cent and 16.7 per cent.


TICKET TO RIDE

Ticket prices for Auckland public transport increase on January 14.

* BUS FARES

Up an average 7.8 per cent.

* TRAIN FARES

Up an average 15 per cent.

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