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Free public transport begins in New Zealand

New Zealand has begun free or discounted fares on public transport at the start of April with the announcement coming from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to address the rising cost of living.

The scheme will last for three months, but in the announcement the government flagged more funding for public transport in the upcoming Budget.

With just two weeks between the initial announcement and rollout, regional councils have rushed to organise logistics.

All regional buses, ferries and trains have been included and the discount is largely being added on to pre-existing concessions and fare types.

In Auckland, monthly public transport passes are half price, and in both Auckland and Christchurch daily fare caps have been halved.

In Wellington, people with partly-used 30-day passes will be reimbursed 50 per cent of the fare.

Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher is excited to have the opportunity to make public transport more accessible.

“We’ve been sharing with communities and customers how we’re approaching the half-price fares and we’re very excited, we’re getting great feedback,” he said.

Operators had to adjust quickly after the announcement to ensure it began smoothly

The services have faced challenges with Covid making its way through the community, impacting driver availability.

“We still have a number of our frontline staff affected by Omicron,” Gallacher said.

“We’re running all our regular timetables but there are some cancellations.”

Free Fares, a campaign by the Aotearoa Collective for Public Transport Equity, spokesperson Ryan Hooper-Smith said he was in support of the decision.

“It’s a clear indication that the government believes public transport can be part of the solution to the increase in the cost of living, and we hope they do more as part of Budget 2022.”

He says it provides “a great opportunity for New Zealand to see what cheaper public transport can do for us all”.

“Living in a time where climate change is a pressing issue, we need to all take the commitment to modal shift and reducing our emissions. If this pushes more Kiwis towards using public transport, then that is a great achievement.

“It also should give us some useful data to see how decreased prices for public transport increases patronage, which should hopefully help the push for Free Fares.”

The fare reduction period lasts until the end of June. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said public transport would be a key feature of this year’s Budget.

 

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