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Fares fair, insists council on hikes

Raglan bus fares skyrocket next month — by nearly half for schoolchildren — but the regional council insists the service is “substantially cheaper” than comparable Waikato bus runs.

Longtime Raglan council watchdog and bus commuter John Lawson is aghast at a “massive” 48 percent fare increase for children busing to school in Hamilton, while the Brown family of Te Uku have also baulked at a hike in BUSIT fares that they claim is “out of line with any other cost-of-living increase”.

But Waikato Regional Council transport and policy group manager Vaughan Payne was adamant this week Raglan bus users were getting a fair deal relative to the distances being travelled. From February 1 a child fare for the 50km bus journey to Hamilton would now be $4 against Te Awamutu’s $3.30 for a 30km trip and Leamington’s $3.80 for a 26km trip.

“We recognise the importance of the Raglan bus service and understand that any fare increases are likely to be unpopular,” he told the Chronicle. However the Raglan service — popular particularly with parents who chose to send their children to Hamilton schools — was not supposed to be a school bus, he said.

To free up space on other buses and find a solution to community requests for increased services, the regional council was now extending the Te Uku “school assist” service to begin in Raglan, he explained. And the annual cost of that extended service, which would operate Monday to Friday during school terms between Raglan and Hamilton Boys High School, was $30,000.

Being hit in the wallet to fund the route extension however is of little comfort to Te Uku’s Brown family, who believe the increase is “excessive”. They’ll now be forced to find $80 each week — rather than the $54.50 previously — to commute their two children to high school in Hamilton.

The service has not been enhanced for them in any way, they say, the Raglan bus infrastructure is already in place and the buses remain overloaded at peak times. They complain the service seems to be “the most expensive of any comparable Waikato bus service”, with the fare increases “not satisfactorily justified” to the Raglan community.

Meanwhile John Lawson insists the extra service wasn’t put out to tender and “seems to be costing about $20,000 more than it should”.
Mr Payne said the regional council did not undertake another costly tender process because the new service was an extension to an existing contract that had already gone through a competitive public tender.

“Introducing a new bus that meets government standards was not viable at a capital cost of around $200,000, plus ongoing operating costs,” he said.
Mr Payne also insisted the Raglan service overall was not “commercially viable”, meaning it did not make money, and said John Lawson’s suggestion of an $80,000 profit from recently gained passenger fares was incorrect.

“Money from fares helps to decrease the amount paid by Waikato district and regional council ratepayers, as well as the NZ Transport Agency,” he said.
Fares currently covered 42 percent of the costs while public subsidies cover the remaining 58 percent, Mr Payne said. While this level of public subsidy was lower than for some other regional bus services, the Government had set a national target of no more than 50 percent.

In the case of the Raglan service, the public subsidies were split between Waikato district and Waikato Regional Council ratepayers living in Hamilton (25 per cent each) and the NZTA (50 percent).

John Lawson, however, laments a regional council prediction that the fare increase will result in an estimated loss of 7400 passenger trips which, he says, is expected to “help manage capacity issues”.

“Many of us in Raglan are aware of peak oil, global warming and the part bus travel can do to minimise these problems,” he says. “I hope that seemingly poor management won’t result in that predicted loss of passengers.”

Adult fares on the Raglan route rise 11 per cent from February 1.

Edith Symes

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