Auckland Transport is offering crumbs of comfort to what it says is a small proportion of bus passengers - largely North Shore students - facing weekly fare rises of $10 or more.
Public transport operations head Mark Lambert told Auckland Council members yesterday it was investigating possible transitional help for those likely to be hit hardest by the establishment of uniform fares across the region under the $100 million Hop ticketing project.
That would be while his council body conducted a wider review of fares in pursuit of what its chairman, Lester Levy, promises will be "more attractive and affordable pricing" early next year.
Mr Lambert's peace offering followed a presentation to the council's transport committee by Auckland University student Alex van der Sande, who has drawn more than 650 followers to a Facebook campaign against the loss of passes which he says will add more than $10 to his weekly travel costs.
Although Auckland Transport insists fewer than 1 per cent of passengers will be significantly affected by the change to uniform fares, and some adult North Shore commuters will save money by transferring to monthly zonal tickets, Mr van der Sande said "penniless" students would be disproportionately affected by the abolition of special passes introduced in 2008 to support the Northern Busway.
Another transport body spokesman, Wally Thomas, said the Northern Pass was a "loss leader" which went nowhere near covering costs and it was not considered fair that someone travelling 15km from the Shore to central Auckland should be paying substantially less than others travelling the same distance from the west or south.
He said Auckland Transport continued to support tertiary students with a 35 per cent discount off adult fares, compared with 20 per cent in 2008.
But Hibiscus and Bays Local Board chairwoman Julia Parfitt said one reason for the busway's outstanding success had been the flexibility of its fare structure, and believed the cost efficiencies it provided should give Auckland Transport leeway to maintain subsidies.
Statutory Maori Board member Glenn Wilcox said his son had calculated it was cheaper for him to drive to university than catch trains and Auckland Transport faces a complaint to the Commerce Commission from an adult passenger from Green Bay after a 98 per rise in monthly fares on Urban Express buses to $190 under their early inclusion in the Hop scheme.
Transport committee chairman Mike Lee said that if students got out of the habit of using public transport and took to driving cars for the rest of their lives "that would be disastrous for all our plans."
Referring to progress reports to the committee on Auckland's rail electrification and underground rail projects, he said: "We've been talking about billions and if we don't get smart around our fare policies and respond to public concerns, all that investment could be wasted."