Thursday, April 7, 2022

Make ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emission cuts with free public transport

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report calls for ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. The time to act for climate justice  is now or never” says Urs Signer, spokesperson for Climate Justice Taranaki.

Transport contributes to over a fifth of New Zealand’s emissions and is the sector with the fastest rise in emissions. Since 1990, transport emissions here have doubled.

“Taking cars off the roads is the number one thing to do if we are serious about reducing transport emissions. With the introduction of half-price fares for public transport this week, local anecdotal evidence suggests a significant increase in the use of our Taranaki buses.”

“There are now well over 400 members of the ‘I Love Public Transport, Taranaki’ online group and a recent contributor commented that The Connector bus, which links Hāwera and New Plymouth, was so full that three people had to stand. The time is right for free public transport across Aotearoa to reduce our CO2 emissions and ensure people who can no longer afford a car or petrol can still get from A to B and C.” 

“In the French city of Dunkirk, not much bigger than New Plymouth, residents have enjoyed free public transport since 2018 with buses running every 10 minutes. Eight months after abolishing fares, patronage had increased by 65% during the week and by 125% during the weekend.” 

“We are calling on the government to use this year’s Budget to announce free public transport for all and work together with the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) to upgrade Taranaki’s public transport network by significantly increasing the number of bus runs on each route. A bus every 15 minutes during the day and services in the evening and weekends have got to be implemented urgently to decarbonise our transport needs. What we are currently lacking is political will by the government and TRC councillors to make public transport a viable climate solution.”

“If we want to be serious about transitioning off fossil fuels and private vehicles then we need to get serious about public transport. Making it free helps those who are most vulnerable to climate change. We demand free public transport now” concludes Urs Signer.

Published by Climate Justice Taranaki - a group dedicated to justice, resistance, education and positive actions at the front lines of climate change. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Join this Webinar on Friday

 Climate Justice - Who Pays for a Just Transition?

Webinar this Friday, 1st April, 7.30pm

RSVP to attend:

As we face increasing climate impacts and a rapid rise in the cost of living, what are our options for a just transition away from fossil fuels, and towards a more just world? Who pays? In this discussion, speakers will share ways they are working for a more transformational future What are some ways we can build a more just health, transport and economic system that will make life better for people and the planet - and ensure people have enough money to live with dignity?

We will also launch a set of demands for Budget 2022.

Speakers confirmed so far:

Edward Miller - FIRST Union

Roger Fowler - editor Fare Free blog

Mika Hervel - Free Fare Campaign

Francie Mountier - Climate Justice Activist

#SocialJusticeIsClimateJustice #RiseUpForClimateJustice

Monday, March 21, 2022

‘The time is right’


Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – The time is right for permanent free public transport

The problem with conservative politicians is when dealing with a crisis, they’re always inclined towards doing the minimum possible in the hope that it will be enough.

The current Government is faced with several crises – including that of inequality, climate, and the rapidly rising cost of living. One response has been to halve the price of public transport for three months.

Why not go the whole way and made public transport completely free, permanently?

Getting rid of fares entirely fits with the Zeitgeist, and makes a lot of sense in terms of the aforementioned crises that the public want dealt with. Fare-free public transport could be an example of the Government doing something truly transformative, as promised.

Yes, it would be expensive. But in the greater scheme of things, it’s really not that much. We’ve learnt this week that the temporary fare cut is estimated to cost around $35m over the three months. It’s therefore been calculated that the Government could have easily just abolished fares permanently for something in the region of $320m/year (which is even less than the estimated cost of the petrol tax cuts for three months).

Indeed, the Ministry of Transport has said that although fares normally bring in about $330m, in recent years this has dropped back to about $200-250m due to Covid-induced working from home etc.

So would forgoing these fares really make a big dent in the budget for the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency? Hardly. The agency currently raises about $4b a year through fuel taxes and road user charges. Only a tiny fraction of this currently goes into public transport.

Foregoing about $300m a year in fares is small change when it comes to climate change and the cost of living crisis. But critics will point out that the cost is likely to be higher, because more services would have to be put on to meet higher demand caused by free fares. But surely this would also be a good outcome? Having a higher proportion of the public travelling by bus and train would reduce carbon emissions, which is something the Government is seriously failing to do at the moment.

Central and local government already invest about $800m per year in running public transport, because it’s acknowledged that such services are a public good. The idea of having a part-charge, i.e. a fare, for this public good seems backwards if we really want to get people out of poverty as well as out of cars. After all, other public goods, like libraries are normally entirely free. And there is a growing awareness that things like public swimming pools should also be free. Perhaps we will one day look back and think it’s weird that we used to charge to use a public good like buses, when they are so essential for assisting public life, the economy, and the environment.

In Auckland, mayoral candidate Efeso Collins is promising fare-free travel for that city, and he estimates it would cost $160m in lost revenue, and an extra $60m to upgrade services. And it’s worth noting that Auckland’s Regional Fuel Tax has raised about $500m, of which $285m remains unspent.

A recent report from Auckland Council estimated that fare-free travel would increase public transport use by 23 per cent, decrease car use by 4 per cent, and reduce the city’s emissions by 3 per cent.

Other mayor candidates are also touting free fares as the way forward. There’s some historic precedent for this, too. Leftwing candidate Jim Anderton promised the same in his 1977 campaign, as did John Minto in 2013.

Such demands are likely to feature in many other local government election campaigns this year. And in Christchurch the regional authority is planning to introduce free fares for all under 25s, students and community service cardholders.

Recently the Helen Clark Foundation also come out with a report advocating for greater subsidisation of public transport.

There’s a shift towards fare-free travel in other parts of the world. In 2013 the city of Tallinn in Estonia was the first in Europe to abolish fares. And then in 2020 Luxembourg followed suit. All around the world, cities like Melbourne and Detroit have started to make parts of their transport network free.

Political parties are now playing catchup on this move towards free public transport.
Notably, the Greens have now come out in favour. At the last election their policy was only to make fare-free travel available for those under the age of 18. But the Greens are now seeing the sense in a more radical and universal policy where everyone benefits.

Yesterday they launched a petition for people to sign. But as Stuff political journalist Henry Cooke points out, an ulterior motive is likely to be in the mix: “such petitions are used by the political parties to “harvest email addresses of potential voters”.

So have the Greens been pressuring their coalition partner to deliver something for public transport in the Budget? Not according to party co-leader James Shaw. That they have not been leading the way on a policy that clearly has widespread support reflects how coalition management and compromise currently dominates over their core policy objectives. This is a real danger sign for minor parties in government.

Labour have hinted that they will put more money into buses and trains in the upcoming Budget. Finance Minister Grant Robertson may even have plans to make the half-price fares more permanent. But with a little more pressure applied, Robertson might even feel the need to rejig his draft Budget to come up with something more generous and radical.

Of course proper investment needs to be made in improving the services. Public transport infrastructure has been effectively run down by recent Labour and National governments, as well as by local government politicians more concerned with the needs of private car owners. Investment in infrastructure simply hasn’t kept up with increasing need and population growth. And compared to global use, New Zealand cities now have some of the lower use of public transport in the world.

There will, of course, be opposition to free public transport – especially because it might require more government spending and taxation, meaning the wealthy might see this as a lose-lose situation, in which taxes pay for something that predominantly benefits the poor. National and Act oppose fare-free public transport, with MP Simeon Brown saying yesterday that user-pays is still the best way, and customers need to make a contribution to the cost. Such politicians are always quick to add up the costs of public services, but less keen to draw attention to the benefits (which are intrinsically less quantifiable).

This has been the consensus forever, but there are some signs that Labour might be willing to break free from this. They promised to “build back better” after Covid, which surely means innovating on issues like this. They’ve promised to deal with wellbeing, growing climate emissions, infrastructure deficits and inequality. Getting rid of the petty fares would be an important example of how this could be done. Here’s a simple but effective measure that makes a big difference to all those intersecting problems. But half-measures like fare reductions won’t cut it.

Further reading on free public transport

Henry Cooke (Stuff): Green Party push to make public transport free forever
Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Calls for fare-free public transport after Government halves ticket prices
Justin Wong (Stuff): Wellington public transport fares to be halved from April 1
Herald: More than 1200 people call for free public transport, days after Government announced prices will be halve
Dita De Boni (NBR): Mayoral aspirant plugs vision of free public transport nirvana(paywalled)
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Who says there’s no such thing as a free bus(paywalled)
Today FM: Green Party wants free public transport to ease strain on Kiwi commuters
Andrew Dickens (Newstalk ZB): Does making public transport free work?

Link to original post:

Democracy Project and Victoria University of Wellington 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Sign the petition for zero fares


To: Minister of Transport, Michael Wood

Now is the moment for free fares

Now is the moment for free fares

We call on the Minister of Transport, Michael Wood, to implement free public transport for Community Service Card holders, full- and part-time tertiary students, and under-25s nationwide. 

We want to see this fully funded by central government in Budget 2022 and free fares beginning in 2023.

We also acknowledge the need for this government to reduce fares for all other passengers and to increase the reach, frequency and quality of services in underserved areas.

Why is this important?

New Zealand should be a place where everyone can afford public transport to stay connected, enjoy our regions, and travel in a way that’s kind to the environment.

But with the high cost of public transport, many people can only afford to travel by private car, causing congestion and harmful carbon emissions. Some people don’t travel at all, and their wellbeing and communities suffer as a result.

The solution is for the government to fund free fares for public transport, starting with low-income groups and under-25s. 

The case has never been stronger. New Zealand needs to take bold actions to reduce emissions and improve equity; we also need to address rising living costs and pandemic pressures that are pushing people into poverty. Free fares is a solution. Now is the moment!

The Free Fares petition has hit 2000 signatures in less than one week. Fantastic work getting it out there!

We'd love to double that. Could you send an email blast or newsletter to your members? Text you can use is below.

We've also set an outrageous goal of getting 100 individual councilors to support the campaign... before 18 November. There are 25 on board so far, plus several councils will soon vote on motions of support.

Can you help us? Do you know any individual local city or district councilors that you could ask to support the campaign? That involves adding their name to a public list that will be used on the website and in public media (we'll send out a press release on 18 November). We will also keep them updated about the campaign. If they want to get further involved, they are most welcome. Here's a template you can use to reach out to councilors. Direct them to this sign up form, or send questions to

Thanks again for your support. A reminder we have weekly strategy meetings, 7pmWednesdays on Zoom, for anyone wanting to join. This week's link is here.

Here's text to you can adapt for email newsletters:
  • Join the call for free fares. Our organisation has teamed up with dozens of others around Aotearoa to support the Free Fares campaign ( Together we are calling on Transport Minister Michael Wood to make public transport FREE for all under-25s, tertiary students and Community Service Card holders, so that more people can afford climate-friendly options. Everyone should be able to afford public transport, but the high cost leaves many people reliant on private cars or disconnected from their community. Free fares is part of the solution! Sign the petition here:
Best wishes,

Kate Day

Advocacy Enabler

Anglican Movement


Conrad Landin explores the idea of a universal free ride. New Internationalist 5 November 2021

Official delegates visiting Glasgow for the UN Climate Conference in November will receive a free pass for buses, trains and the subway. But once they look around at ordinary punters, they will see that the residents of Scotland’s largest city juggle a daily cacophony of individual paper tickets and separate smart-cards.

Urban and regional transit is as much a part of everyday life as education and housing. When we can move around with ease, we don’t just benefit as individuals – we benefit as a society. It seems like it would be a win-win to make public transport free for users and pay for it out of general taxation.

At first the idea might seem unworkable, but we just need to cast our eyes to the cities, regions and, in one case, an entire small country, that have already implemented it. The Estonian capital of Tallinn has gone part of the way there. The city’s 438,000 residents pay a small fee for a pass that gives them free access to public transport, but tourists still pay full whack. In one sense this supports the city’s transport budget, but it also means there is still a need for expensive ticketing infrastructure and enforcement regimes. Wouldn’t it be simpler to eliminate ticketing altogether and instead levy a tourist tax on overnight stays?

Although public transport was already heavily subsidized in Luxembourg, from 2020 ministers decided to scrap fares and ticket checks on trains, trams and buses in a move that cost just $44 million. Transport is not only free to the grand duchy’s 600,000 residents, but also its many incoming commuting workers and tourists. ‘The objective is to stop the deepening gap between rich and poor,’ François Bausch, the Green politician in charge of the programme, said at the time.

Dunkirk has been another high-profile testbed for fare-free travel – and no, this isn’t a bad joke about World War Two’s Operation Dynamo. In 2018 the town, (population 91,000) revived its public transport system by granting free travel on five express bus lines, each running at a 10-minute frequency. It had the desired result: a survey of bus passengers showed ridership in Dunkirk spiked the next year, with passenger numbers doubling at weekends.

In 2019, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced free bus and metro rides for women as ‘a gift to our sisters’. In 2012 a woman was brutally gang-raped and murdered on a private bus in Delhi. Politicians concluded that having more women on public transport would improve safety and so decided to address the fact that women were far less likely to be travelling on buses and trains in the first place. The fact that this scheme has been rolled out in region with a 16.9 million population is an encouraging sign that free transport isn’t only workable for small cities in the West.

There is, however, a thorny issue with free travel – the potential for bosses to use it as an opportunity to cut staffing. In Luxembourg, such concerns prompted transport unions to oppose free travel. Given that many transport workers are primarily focused on revenue collection and enforcement, and that corporations have a proven record of using smart ticketing and automatic barriers to cut costs, this argument can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Passenger advocacy groups should instead work with transport unions to make a dual demand for free urban transport, alongside legal staffing guarantees which would make public transport safer and more accessible. Rail ticket inspectors should receive full safety training, and trains should never run with just one ‘safety-critical’ worker on board – a longstanding demand of UK rail unions concerned over driver-only operation. Ticket clerks and bus workers who currently perform spot-checks should be trained to provide assistance to elderly and disabled passengers, and indeed to anyone who requires help on board.

Free travel is not a panacea for inequality, and needs to go hand in hand with measures to make our urban settlements fit for walking and cycling. But as well as the potential for reducing car usage, it could help make public transport safe, secure and accessible for all.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Albuquerque has embraced fare free public transit and the left should too

 By Michael Laxer, the Left Chapter, 25 Sept 2021

What was once seen as an utopian, marginal and fringe idea is increasingly being embraced by mainstream politicians in communities across North America and around the world.

Photo public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In another step forward for the global fare free transit movement, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico has decided to implement a one-year zero fare trial policy on all its municipal bus routes. With a population in excess of 550,000 this makes the city one of the largest in the world to embrace fare free public transit.

The City Council voted September 20 to put the program into effect beginning January 1, 2022.

Albuquerque joins large cities like Tallinn, Estonia and Kansas City, Missouri that either have full free public transit or a version of it.

In the case of Kansas City, the City Council began to start rolling out zero fare transit a few years ago starting with students, veterans and some social service users. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the city decided to make fares free for everyone, at least temporarily. For now this will be extended until the end of 2022.

Interestingly, this decision meant that Kansas City did not see anywhere near the decline in public transit ridership that most major cities did as a result of the pandemic.

According to Kansas City Area Transportation Authority president and chief executive officer Robbie Makinen “While everybody else’s ridership went down during COVID to about 20%, ours never dipped below 60%, and we’re back up to 80% now".

As I have noted before, the struggle for free transit and against car culture is critically important in this era where the fight against climate change and inequality are coming so sharply into focus.

While many -- understandably given the seriousness of the climate emergency -- primarily view the need for free fares through an environmental lens, they can also play a critical role in promoting social inclusion and working to end the marginalization of urban communities and neighbourhoods.

As I have argued before, free transit is an obvious way to incorporate neighbourhoods with high poverty rates or population densities that are detached from the overall economic and cultural life of the city into the fabric of city life as a whole.

Museums, art galleries, cultural or political events, parks and waterfronts and so many other essential parts of the urban experience would be there to visit at no cost in fares.

Beyond opening up a city to neighbourhoods excluded from full participation in it, the reverse is also true. It would open up neighbourhoods that few visit to new possibilities to host cultural or artistic events and to become destinations. This can have profound potential economic and social benefits.

Christopher Ramirez of the Albuquerque community group Together 4 Brothers that had advocated for the free transit policy notes this when he says "Zero fares isn't about getting people on buses, it's about where the buses take people. It's about access to education, it's about access to employment, access to recreation."


Baruch Compost is the program coordinator for the organization. He said coming from a low-income household, growing up without a car and also struggling to afford the bus made it difficult to go to school and even get a job.
"One of the questions that is often asked in interviews is, 'do you have reliable transportation?'" Compost said. "Paying for the bus might not seem like much for some folks, but it really does add up."
Community partners also benefit from zero fares, including the mayor's Climate Action Task Force.
"They recognize that zero fares would go a long way to impact air pollution and climate justice here in the City of Albuquerque," Ramirez said. "If we can get more people out of their cars and into buses, we know that's gonna have another positive impact on our city."
Ramirez said even if you don't ride the bus, you probably know or even rely on someone who does.
"This is an important part of the story. You may not benefit from zero fares, maybe you have a car, you don't have a bus route near your house, but guess what, the person that works at your grocery store, the person that works at the day care, the person that works at your favorite fast-food restaurant where you get your favorite breakfast burrito, they're all gonna benefit," Ramirez said.

What was once seen as an utopian, marginal and fringe idea is increasingly being embraced by mainstream politicians in communities across North America and around the world. The left needs to make fare free public transit a central part of its struggle against climate change and inequality and for social inclusion and economic justice.