Council may support Free Fares campaign

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
The Otago Regional Council will consider supporting a national campaign to make public transport free for certain users.

Included on the agenda for tomorrow’s council meeting in Balclutha is a motion to authorise the chief executive to sign on as a coalition member in the Free Fares campaign.

The campaign, if successful, would allow tertiary students, under 25-year-olds, community service card holders and the disabled community free access to public transport.

These groups have been identified as those least likely to be able to afford a private vehicle.

Cr Elliot Weir, of the Dunedin constituency, said the campaign would signal steps that needed to be taken in the future.

"It doesn’t have any policy implications for us at this moment, it’s just us signalling that we support that campaign on a national level lobbying central government to push towards making public transport more accessible and comprehensive."

Joining the campaign would help the council to assess different options as to how public transport could be improved.

Cr Weir submitted an additional motion requesting the council’s transport team to produce a report on the feasibility of free off-peak travel and the potential costs and benefits.

"If we want a city that isn’t incredibly congested in a couple years’ time, and meet the city’s climate change goals, we need a massive shift to public transport," Cr Weir said.

Costs to use public transport and the requirement of a Bee card were important barriers to remove in order to promote public transport use, they said.

"Any way we can do that is good in my books, making those buses better, reliable, more frequent and going to more places."

"I think it’s quite handy to hop on a bus without having to sort out a Bee card and go anywhere in the city."

Cr Weir said the campaign would benefit the student community in particular, who tended not to own cars and walked around the north Dunedin area.

Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) president Quintin Jane said free fares for public transport would ease the burden of other costs.

"Any way in which we can support students to perhaps save a couple of dollars here and there is something that we are incredibly supportive of," Mr Jane said.

"Free public transport in particular is a good one as it’s a sustainable initiative and it also increases students’ abilities to look further afield for rentals.

"If public transport fares became free, they’d be able to look further afield for higher-quality rentals in their budget and not have to absorb their cost of transport."

The OUSA had signed on to the campaign in early March, in addition to nine other councils and more than 70 other organisations, he said. 

TIM SCOTT, PIJF cadet reporter