Wed, Nov 24, 2021 2:34 PM

Council turns down free fares campaign

Nelson City Council have voted not to support the Aotearoa Collective for Public Equity free fares campaign. Photo: file.

Erin Bradnock

Nelson City Council has narrowly voted to not support a free fares campaign that is pushing for free public transport for Community Service Card holders, tertiary students and those under 25 from central government.

In a council meeting Tuesday, Nelson City councillors voted five to five on a motion to support Aotearoa Collective for Public Equity free fares campaign.

The campaign aligns with the Ministry of Environment’s consultation process of the first emissions reduction plan which will direct climate action over the next 15 years.

Councillor Rohan O’Neill Stevens raised the motion to support the free fares campaign in council chambers Tuesday.

“Only a small minority of adults agree that public transport is affordable,” said Rohan.

“It’s about enabling people in a low emissions way to engage with friends and whānau, it’s about letting people get to school, to work or the GP.”

Dunedin City, Wellington City Council, Porirua City Council, Kapiti Coast District Council, Palmerston North City Council and Horizons Regional Council have already voted to support the campaign while other councils have deliberations scheduled.

Mel Courtney spoke in support of the motion, going so far as to suggest that fares for all public transport users should be free.

“Public transport is more than an equity issue, it’s a major tool in helping us grapple with the challenges associated with climate change and something dramatic needs to be done to get people on public transport,” he said.

Councillor and regional transport committee chair Brian McGurk admitted he was “conflicted” by the motion but ultimately opposed it, citing councils Regional Public Transport Plan 2021-31 as better addressing transport poverty over free fares.

“I look at the gains that Queenstown Lake District Council when they bought the same sort of fare structure we’re proposing, lower flatter fares across Whakatū. They had similar increases of the use of public transport as the use with zero fees,” he said.

Councillor Tim Skinner was concerned that free fares would entice those who walk and cycle to instead ride the bus.

“Everything’s pretty close and when your under 25 or even under 55 you should be able to walk or cycle,” he said.

Mayor Rachel Reese supported Tim’s comments and referred to council support for the campaign as a “get on the bandwagon kind of option”.

“Actually if we were going to say what is our superpower, our superpower is the availability of having a fantastic start to a walking and cycling network that I would like to build on,” said Rachel.

Rohan closed the debate with his right of reply.

“The evidence says free fares will massively boost public transport patronage, which is one of our goals. It will contribute to a model shift, which is one of our goals,”

“Is it bold? Hell yeah, it is bold but it’s the kind of action that we desperately need to see,” he said.

Rohan voted in support of his motion alongside councillors Rachel Sanson, Mel Courtney, Kate Fulton and Matt Lawry.

Councillors Trudie Brand, Yvonne Bowater, Tim Skinner, Brian McGurk and mayor Rachel Reese opposed the motion.

Councillors Gaile Noonan, Pete Rainey and Judene Edgar were absent from the meeting and due to the vote being a tie, the default of sticking with the status quo was enacted and the motion was not passed.

Aotearoa Collective for Public Equity member Mika Hervel says while he was glad to hear the mayor will be writing to transport minister Michael Wood, he was "disappointed" in Nelson City Council's decision.

"I would never have thought that a council which declared a climate emergency would turn down the opportunity to advocate for a way to reduce emissions and tackle transport poverty at the same time, especially since it costs them nothing,"

"To hear this coalition of groups who work hard to support their communities and advocate for climate action be labelled a 'bandwagon' was also disheartening," he said.

Today is the last day to make submissions on the government’s climate emissions discussion document for an Emissions Reduction Plan.