Restrict Sydney's concession users, says academic

A transport academic is calling for restrictions to be placed on Sydney concession fare holders to travel in off-peak periods only

July 19, 2011

The NSW government should consider reducing crowding on public transport by restricting non-workers’ concession fare use to off-peak hours, according to a noted transport academic.

University of Sydney’s Chair of Public Transport Corinne Mulley says Sydney’s public transport in the peak is crowded and struggles to provide capacity for all the people who want to use it.

"The NSW government allows those on concessions to travel on all services without facing time restrictions," Mulley says.

"We should be clear about why non-workers’ concessions are offered and the impact this might have on usage of the public transport system."

Mulley suggests one argument for public transport non-workers’ concessions is to offer a cheaper price to those who might not otherwise travel.

"This ‘elasticity of demand’ argument is best served by restricting non-workers’ concession fares to off-peak times to even out demand over the day, and allowing concession holders to travel when demand for buses, trains and ferries isn’t at its peak, when others are commuting," she says.

"Allowing non-workers’ concession ticket holders access to public transport at all times doesn’t offer a disincentive for them to travel at rush hour, when they compete for seats with those paying a higher price."

Mulley says concession travellers who move from the peak to the off-peak increase capacity for those who have to travel in peak hour.

"On a bus, each extra seat increases capacity by about two per cent," she says.

Mulley says the practice is common in other countries.

"Free local bus travel for older people in the UK is restricted to after 9.30am and in Singapore concessions for older people are more restrictive, with no travel in either the morning or evening weekday peaks.

She says elsewhere in Australia, such as in Western Australia and South Australia, older people travel for free during the off-peak.

Mulley says crowding on public transport in the peak is a big issue in Sydney

"It takes a long time and considerable funding to put additional capacity in place," she says.

"We don’t have the evidence to know how much – if at all – non-workers’ concession ticket holders add to crowding on public transport, but capacity and crowding issues have been so much discussed recently the role of concession fares warrants a debate."

Mulley says the debate would also need to consider the legitimate, social, reasons for discounted concession fares.

"Society must provide accessibility to those on limited incomes, such as the elderly, but this needs to be balanced by an understanding of the costs of providing peak capacity and the impacts of crowding on public transport use."

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