Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Self-serving oldies moan over free rides

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

Sometimes it really is embarrassing to be a baby-boomer. We're the generation that enjoyed free school milk, free university education and free healthcare, then, after sucking those teats dry, turned off the taps and told those following that the free ride was over.

Now, my fellow oldies sit back in their million dollar, debt-free homes, moaning about a piddling $15 for a transport swipe card which will give them free travel on Auckland's buses, trains and ferries for the rest of their lives.

This, while homeless young families have to park up in their cars overnight and student debtors get arrested at airports.

All I can do is cringe and say, sorry, they're not with me.

On Monday, it was a chap complaining that because you have to go in person to an Auckland Transport service centre to get one of the new cards, oldies without a car would "have to pay a taxi fare there and back". That would only be true if they were too idle to go to the closest train or bus stop, flash their existing SuperGold card, and make a free trip to a service centre to collect a new card instead.

Indeed they could make a day of it. Catch a free bus into Britomart, sort out their lifetime free travel, then stroll down to the ferry terminal and take a celebratory free trip to a Waiheke winery for lunch.

D-Day is July 1. From that date, flashing a SuperGold card at the driver will no longer work on Auckland public transport. Instead, oldies will have to have purchased an AT Hop swipe card and arranged to have the SuperGold free travel concession loaded into it. That's to continue enjoying free - after 9am - travel on Auckland public transport. Without it, they'll have to pay the full adult fare.

As of this time last month, 45,000, or about half the estimated Auckland oldie public transport customer base, had already managed this hardly arduous feat. Between then and last Friday, another 10,600 had got themselves sorted. AT reckons that leaves another 30,000 or so potential customers with now just two weeks to meet the deadline. To cope with the rush, AT has hired an extra 19 temporary staff.

There's no doubt, the rebirth of Auckland public transport over the past decade or so has been a troubled affair, and I've been a regular critic. The convoluted introduction of the passenger swipe card has been just one chapter in this drawn out exercise. The embarrassing false start with the Snapper card created many headlines. So did the final eye-watering bill for Hop, which, after assorted cost overruns, came in around $100 million. And even now that it's been up and running for a couple of years, I agree the GoldCard integration process seems to have been designed by Heath Robinson.

After all, I can replace my credit card and my passport by mail, in one simple process. Both the banks and the Government seem confident that the fraudsters won't have a field day if I don't present myself in person. If it's good enough for them, I'm not sure why obtaining a transport fare card requires a personal trip to a public counter so a clerk can check your identity against your passport or driver's licence mugshot.

Having said that, more than 55,000 of us have gone through this rigmarole and emerged with a card granting us free travel for life " or at least until Winston Peters, its instigator and protector, disappears from the scene.

In such circumstances, it's hardly seems the time to kick a gift horse in the mouth " or to remind younger taxpayers how we baby boomers have managed to organise ourselves one last free ride into the sunset.

If oldies have time on their hands to criticise AT, it would be more politic to seize on a gripe that will help all customers, not just them.

Here's a couple to be going on with: they could target advertising that covers the whole sides of buses, windows included, blocking views and encasing travellers in a claustrophobic bubble; or they could highlight the shrinking new bus seats as Auckland body sizes slowly expand.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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