New moves add $100,00 to ratepayer bill

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - DAMIAN GE­ORGE

Blind and dis­abled pas­sen­gers are in line for a 50 per cent dis­count on Welling­ton’s pub­lic trans­port net­work from next year, while ratepay­ers will pay $100,000 for a raft of new ini­tia­tives.

The pro­posed dis­count comes af­ter crit­i­cism of ini­tial plans for a 25 per cent con­ces­sion, which would have seen some blind and dis­abled pas­sen­gers ac­tu­ally pay more.

That was be­cause pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling by train or on NZ Bus al­ready re­ceived a 50 per cent dis­count, un­der long-stand­ing agree­ments with those op­er­a­tors.

‘‘We had a lot of sub­mis­sions on the topic and that was not un­ex­pected,’’ Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil pub­lic trans­port plan­ning man­ager Paul Kos said.

‘‘It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause a lot of peo­ple who got the dis­count had no idea that other peo­ple who were blind and dis­abled didn’t get it.’’

The pro­posal is one of a num­ber of changes put for­ward in the coun­cil’s amended pub­lic trans­port fares re­view, and would come into ef­fect from July.

It would ben­e­fit about 10,000 To­tal Mo­bil­ity card or Blind Foun­da­tion ID hold­ers, and would also al­low car­ers to ride for free.

Dis­abled Per­sons Assem­bly New Zealand wel­comed the pro­posal, but hoped it would even­tu­ally be ex­tended to other groups such as the in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled and deaf.

‘‘It’s a fan­tas­tic thing for the mo­bil­ity of lots of dis­abled peo­ple, but it would be so cool to see them work­ing with some other groups who are trans­port dis­ad­van­taged,’’ na­tional pol­icy and re­la­tion­ships man­ager Es­ther Wood­bury said.

The cost of pub­lic trans­port was a sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier for dis­abled peo­ple, who were of­ten on low in­comes, and of­ten led to so­cial iso­la­tion and ex­clu­sion, she said.

‘‘I want to cel­e­brate the re­gional coun­cil for mov­ing on it. It can make a huge dif­fer­ence to peo­ple’s lives.’’

Wood­bury has a mo­bil­ity im­pair­ment and of­ten chooses not to take the bus be­cause it is too dif­fi­cult with her crutches.

En­no­ble dis­abil­ity sup­port group di­rec­tor Rachel Noble said the move was a ‘‘pos­i­tive step to­wards recog­nis­ing dis­abled peo­ple as ci­ti­zens’’.

‘‘The cost of dis­abil­ity is so un­recog­nised and is a fac­tor when it comes to ac­cess­ing em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, health ser­vices, et cetera,’’ Noble said.

‘‘So do­ing this is an en­abler.’’ Unem­ploy­ment was high among dis­abled peo­ple and that meant it was of­ten too ex­pen­sive for them to get out and about. The dis­count would help them gain em­ploy­ment and be­come more pro­duc­tive, but she hoped pub­lic trans­port would even­tu­ally be­come free.

Other pro­posed changes to the fares pack­age re­sult­ing from pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion in­cluded the re­ten­tion of 30-day bus passes and rail event tick­ets, both of which were due to be scrapped.

The mod­i­fied bus pass will ap­ply on any Metlink bus within Welling­ton city. The cur­rent pass is man­aged by NZ Bus and ap­plies only on its Go Welling­ton buses.

With the com­pany los­ing many of its con­tracts from July, the coun­cil deemed the pass un­nec­es­sary, but that caused a pub­lic back­lash.

The rail event ticket of­fers dis­counted rates for spe­cial events in Welling­ton, and has been re­tained.

The changes have seen the to­tal cost of the pack­age bump up from $7.5 mil­lion to $7.8m, with about two thirds of that com­ing from ratepay­ers and the New Zealand Trans­port Agency.

The re­main­ing third will come from an av­er­age 3 per cent fare in­crease across the board, mainly af­fect­ing rush-hour com­muters.

That meant the ad­di­tional $300,000 re­quired for the pack­age would ef­fec­tively cost ratepay­ers a fur­ther $100,000, Kos said.

The pack­age will be con­sid­ered by the coun­cil’s sus­tain­able trans­port com­mit­tee to­mor­row.

PHOTO: ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Dis­abled Per­sons Assem­bly’s Es­ther Wood­bury has wel­comed a pro­posed 50 per cent dis­count for blind and dis­abled pas­sen­gers.

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