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I agree in principle with their long term plan to modernise trains and have electronic integrated tickets for buses and trains. I don't agree that the funding for the project should be generated through increasing rates and ticket prices.
Before I go into why, let me mention two very interesting posts on train travel. One is on trains in Mumbai and the other, titled "Boss on Land" on different types of trains the world over - both informative posts with interesting pictures and worth a visit. Each post has one fact relevant to this discussion.
The Mumbai post describes five different types of regulars the author meets on the train on her daily commute to work. I used to love Bombay trains - the sound of the train in motion, the shopping on the train, the friendliness of the commuters, the cheap fares and frequency. Getting in and out of the trains during the morning and evening rush hours was definitely not for the faint hearted but it was reasonably okay off peak travel hours. It is all there in the above post. At the end of the post the author gives us an astounding figure - the service is used by over 7 million commuters daily.
The other post is interesting in itself but what's relevant is the comments section. One commenter compares the cost of travelling by train and car in a western country.
And now, switching back to New Zealand. Having had experience of the Mumbai buses (B.E.S.T.) and trains, I decided I'd take the government up on their offer of inviting comment and wrote to explain there might be a third option. Would they consider doing exactly the opposite of what they were proposing and reduce ticket prices? To improve connectivity I proposed they not only increase the frequency of the service but have mini buses plying between bus stops, the train stations, office blocks and houses.
This was my reasoning.
- In some cases we waited half an hour for the next bus or train. If someone missed a bus, the next best option wasn't to wait for the next bus but to take the car or miss their appointment.
- As for ticket prices - bus and train tickets are already too expensive in NZ and to increase those even further to fund this project might defeat the aim of the project to generate revenue. Why? With increased prices fewer people might find the services a cheaper option than their cars; it would become prohibitive for the poor. Reduced fares would be the best incentive for people to leave their cars at home. The savings on huge car-parking fees would be an added bonus. Plus, it would be more affordable to the poorer sections of society.
- And most important, the revenue for the project would be generated through higher volumes of commuters.
- As for mini buses (also with cheap fares) they would consume less fuel and yet ply at optimum capacity for lesser routes and shorter distances, thereby improving connectivity.
These, to my mind, are the obvious pros for my suggestion and I have no doubts there will be quite a few cons. Unless a discussion is initiated I'll never know.
In conclusion, commuters won't travel by public trasport unless it is cheaper and faster than cars. My wish is that NZ takes a page out of the Mumbai railways and buses that rake in tens of millions daily, by reducing fares and increasing frequencies and connectivity. The increased volume of commuters is what will generate the revenue for modernising.