Hefty subsidy increases to Stagecoach are blamed for preventing the Auckland Regional Transport Authority from running free bus trials.

Residents Action Movement organiser Grant Morgan complained to a Regional Land Transport Committee hearings panel yesterday that the British-owned bus operator had become "a parasite on public transport in Auckland".

Presenting a petition signed by more than 4000 people calling for the provision of free buses throughout the region, Mr Morgan said the time had come to declare war on congestion caused by "car chaos".

He said Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis had nominated three of his city's suburbs for trials of free bus services, which transport authority chief executive Alan Thompson had indicated could prove a very useful investigative exercise.

But he said Mr Thompson had told him in an email that a trial would not be feasible this financial year, because of a heavy financial burden of having to subsidise bus services which Stagecoach threatened otherwise to abandon as unprofitable.

The transport authority has this week confirmed a decision to add almost $8 million to $40.6 million of subsidies expected to be paid this year to Stagecoach, from a mixture of regional rates and Government funds.

"What we see is Auckland car chaos and Government spending priorities still being on roads," Mr Morgan told the hearings panel, which is considering submissions on Auckland's draft 10-year regional land transport strategy.

Transport Minister Pete Hodgson was claiming a tenfold increase in spending on new roads in Auckland since Labour won office in 1999, to $1.3 billion in current or recently-completed projects.

This compared with $250 million being spent this year on public transport throughout New Zealand.

Mr Morgan accused Stagecoach of opposing the concept in Auckland while offering 100,000 free tickets on its British "megabus" fleet to entice tourists back to London after the terror attack on that city's public transport system.

Stagecoach New Zealand's executive chairman, Ross Martin, said Stagecoach had yet to return a dividend to its British parent, and would not oppose free buses here as long as the transport authority paid for them.