Friday, October 3, 2008

See how easy it is!

If only one has the political will a lot is obviously possible. Since yesterday a policy of free public transport after 9am, on weekends and public holidays is being rolled out in New Zealand.
A fully integrated public transport and ticketing system has been created overnight, without much murmuring (except by the transport companies left out by the scheme, such as the car ferries to Waiheke) or problems with participating companies. There's one obvious flaw though: it's only for pensioners.
Everybody else who has to pay the fares still faces a balkanised, un-integrated and costly system. I don't need to remind you that on that very day of free fares for oldies we got finally whacked in our pocket with the 14% season ticket increase: a cruel irony which I messaged to the press secretary of Judith Tizard, who had triumphantly released the policy and had mailed it to me. He was on the phone to me immediately so I could give him another earful.
The massive government subsidy in this pensioner travel scheme to transport companies will be a boon for them: overseas experience sees buses, trains and ferries clogged with older people in off peak periods - and not always to the amusement of the other traveling (and paying) public faced with overloaded vehicles and lengthy waits. And it's far from certain that this windfall will be (even partially) passed on to us in lower general fares.

The politics of it all are, of course, very cynical in these electoral times: the division of the community along age lines by these kind of special interest policies are breath taking but unsurprising. We won't be seeing Grey Power coming along to future ferry fare protest meetings! And will other parties now campaign for their interest groups? Free fares for Maori? For Christians?
But there is also a bigger picture to be considered. How are we ever going to get an integrated system without the Government bulk funding and tendering services? Like Pharmac bulk purchasing drugs for the health system's patients, ARTA could purchase public transport on behalf of all of us, which would make it either free for residents or at a capped monthly charge much lower than the current season ticket price.

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