Rail fares to rise by up to 7pc - buses dearer too

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland rail passengers can expect average fare rises of up to 7 per cent in February, but bus patrons are likely to face more modest increases.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority yesterday confirmed it had resolved to raise rail fares by an average of 5 per cent to 7 per cent, after three years without an increase.

Chief executive Fergus Gammie also acknowledged that his board had approved an average increase of 2 per cent to 3 per cent to the maximum fare schedule for subsidised bus services.

That was "to recognise recent cost movements and to permit the fare differential between bus and rail to be closed".

But although bus passengers pay an average of 14 per cent more than rail users, Mr Gammie said it would take some years to close the gap under a new "zonal" fare system to be introduced after the arrival of an integrated public transport ticket across Auckland in 2011.

He also emphasised that final bus fare increases within the maximum envelope were for individual fleet operators to determine, and that process could take some time to resolve.

The authority was therefore unable to say when in February passengers could expect fares to rise.

A maximum schedule for ferries will remain unchanged, as the transport authority says there is still room within that envelope for operators to increase fares should they choose.

None of that uncertainty faces rail passengers, as the authority has direct control over fares collected by train operator Veolia Transport.

Authority chairman Rabin Rabindran said there was "never a good time to have a fare increase" but stressed that rail or bus fares had not gone up for three years. In that time, bus operating costs had risen 11.7 per cent compared with inflation of 7.8 per cent, and rail running expenses were up 11 per cent.

On top of that was a request by the Government's Transport Agency to consider increases to address a fare gap between Auckland and Wellington. The agency estimates that passengers contribute an average of only 43.6 per cent of fares in Auckland compared with 51.5 per cent in Wellington.

Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches said the Government should recognised that Wellington had an established electric rail system with lower operating costs while Auckland had an undeveloped system it was trying to grow.

"We are much further behind than Wellington."

Although he accepted increases of 5 per cent to 7 per cent as "reasonable" after three years without rises, he feared tougher times ahead as the Government continued to squeeze public transport subsidies.

The authority's confirmation of its approval of fare rises followed a denial by its communications manager, Sharon Hunter, on Friday that its board had made a decision at a meeting that day.

Ms Hunter, who said then that no decision would be forthcoming before Christmas, said yesterday she was referring to a continuing process which included consulting the Auckland Regional Council on Monday and then notifying bus operators in due course.

The authority notified the operators late yesterday after being pressed by the Herald for details of the likely fare rises.

- NZ Herald

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