$85,000 bill for jaunt overseas

By Mathew Dearnaley

Five Auckland and national transport officials have ended a tour to Europe and the Middle East which has cost ratepayers and taxpayers $85,000.

The tour, by representatives of the national Transport Agency and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, was confirmed on Wednesday as regional politicians fretted over proposed cutbacks to services such as free public transport for pensioners, prompted by a Government funding shortfall.

The agency said it was spending $49,191 on sending two managers and a board member to Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai and London to study integrated transport ticketing systems such as that planned for Auckland and, ultimately, the rest of New Zealand.

Agency chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said it was "money well spent" given the importance of the joint project his organisation and the Auckland authority were about to embark on, and a need to learn from overseas experiences in implementing similar schemes.

But the cost to the Auckland authority of sending chief executive Fergus Gammie and ticketing project programme director Greg Ellis to Europe was not immediately available.

The authority has since issued a table of figures amounting to $18,310 for Mr Gammie's travel and accommodation costs and $17,583 for Mr Ellis, totalling almost $36,000.

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, whose finance committee has recommended the council hold discussions with the authority to find ways of reducing its administration costs to minimise public transport service cuts, has described timing of the trip as unfortunate.

But authority communications manager Sharon Hunter said the trip had proven "very useful in identifying learnings from other jurisdictions" to improve the chances of successfully implementing Auckland's ticketing project.

Ms Hunter has also provided more details of a 12.5 per cent pay rise received by Mr Gammie last year, to between $350,000 and $360,000. She said that figure included a 6 per cent salary rise supplemented by a performance-based payment in acknowledgement of a 7.7 per cent rise in public transport patronage.

- NZ Herald

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