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May 6, 2013 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Head to Head: Fairer Fares


By Rick Zwaan


Congratulations! If you made it to Uni today and picked up this glorious publication, then you’ve made it past one of the biggest barriers to study: transport.

If you’re lucky then you probably donned your raincoat and battled the Wellington wind to make it here in a glamorous fashion. Or you may have jumped on your single-speed and ridden from Newtown before terminating on The Terrace as sweat engulfs you. Don’t get me wrong, I fully endorse modes of transport which keep us active when they’re safe and practical.

We all know that Kelburn landlords make a killing off those of us lucky enough to find a flat near uni, while the rest of us are forced to live further and further out of the CBD. So, if you’re like the majority of students, then you would’ve been stripped of your lunch money as you boarded the bus or train to get you over the terrain to class.

Public transport in Wellington is simply too expensive and tertiary students need fairer fares now.

This campaign is primarily about how we can make tertiary study as accessible as possible. I’ve talked to hundreds of fellow students over the past months who tell horror stories of going hungry as they are forced to prioritise paying to get to labs over eating lunch. $172 in student-loan living costs is not nearly enough to pay for rent and expenses, let alone food and travel. Even those on an allowance with living costs struggle as $210 is gobbled up just as quickly. One option would be to increase student debt to pay for the essentials. Is that fair? I don’t think so. Nor is it smart.

Wellington Regional Council has the power when it comes to alleviating this burden placed on the future talent of our region and country. A simple decision to extend the current high-school concession to include tertiary students would allow thousands more bright minds access to higher education in our region. It would also save us precious coin to spend on essentials. This decision would also help develop the region as we wouldn’t be confined to the CBD when it comes to finding those scarce part-time jobs.

Our elected representatives need to take leadership. We should be fostering a community that values talent instead of endorsing poverty. While New Zealand’s biggest city, and hundreds globally, get along fine with tertiary fares we’re left paying the same as yo-pros on Lambton Quay. If we want to reduce congestion and the costs of roading, then we need to incentivise public transport. It’s about taking action to move a vision for a vibrant Wellington forward.

In a time where it’s clear that climate change will have huge impacts on not only our region but the world, it’s crucial that we promote climate-friendly modes of transport. It’s great to have an efficient low-carbon public transport system, but what’s the use of it if cars continue to dominate? About 15 per cent of students get to uni in a private car which, in upfront costs, is currently cheaper than the train or bus. If it was cheaper to use public transport then we would not only see reduced congestion but a significant reduction in our carbon footprint.

The arguments for fairer fares are clear. It’ll help you get to uni and be able to eat lunch. It’s good for attracting and retaining talent in our region, and it will lead to a better environment with fewer cars, less carbon and more intelligent minds in classes.


Response to Yes:

Maybe “public transport in Wellington is simply too expensive”, but someone has to pay for it. Most students aren’t surviving on their Student Loan living costs. They’re doing okay, so they should pay their fair share. The Council shouldn’t divert money away from other projects (like social housing) to help wealthier students out. The 15 per cent of students who drive to university might do so because their home isn’t well-serviced by public transport or because they like to study late at the library. We doubt a student discount will encourage these students to live a car-free lifestyle. Anyway: buses emit carbon too.



By Tyrone Barugh and Wilbur Townsend


As students, we’ve got it pretty good. University students disproportionately come from wealthy backgrounds, and purely by virtue of our qualifications we’ll go on to earn more than our less-educated friends. The Government pays most of our study costs and lets us borrow the rest interest-free. If we do come from a poorer background, the Government gives us enough money to live off. In a country – not to mention a world – with real and crippling poverty, we’re doing okay.

In that context, it’s absurd to plead that all students deserve discounted public transport. We are both students. While our incomes are lower than full-time workers, we don’t have families to raise or doctor’s bills to pay. We buy booze most weeks because we’re lucky enough to have some discretionary income. We don’t mind borrowing to live because we’re confident that, like most university graduates, we’ll end up earning much more than minimum wage a few years after finishing uni. Like most students, of course we’d appreciate a few dollars less on our bus fares – that’s more money to blow on shots in town. But any suggestion that the Government should prioritise our welfare over the hundreds of thousands who are genuinely struggling stinks of elitism and privilege.

Of course, not all students can afford to spend as much as we do on beer. Some can’t afford to take the Campus Connection either, even when it’s pissing down. VUWSA are right to want to help this minority of students. A blanket student discount isn’t the way to do that. Perhaps VUWSA could campaign to have the Government support low-income students more. If we have to make public transport cheaper, then maybe we could introduce a discount for Community Service Card-holders – that way, wealthy students wouldn’t be eligible while those non-students who need a discount would be eligible. Lobbying for support for all students and students alone is simply selfishness.

Additionally, ‘fairer fares’ ignore the financial difficulties of students who live closer to town. It seems unfair to only help those students who live farther away from uni, but the problem isn’t just one of fairness. Cheaper transport encourages a more sprawling student community because living away from campus becomes cheaper. For some people, flatting out in Hataitai or the Hutt will be a viable option in a way that it wasn’t before. We don’t personally have a problem with people who want to live out in the suburbs, but to encourage students to do so seems like an odd policy priority.

For one, compact cities are environmentally friendly cities. When people live closer to the important places in their life they rely less on day-to-day transit. Currently, on-peak buses are packed, so more demand for public transport will require more services. That means more diesel burnt, more carbon emitted and a worse outlook for our environment. The ‘fairer fares’ proposal unfairly burdens our planet.

Further, sprawling students means a sprawling student community. We think it’s really nice to live in Aro Valley, to only have to walk five minutes down the road when we go to parties and to be able to catch up with mates without too much effort. There’s an inescapably geographical element to community, and in Wellington we’re lucky. Other places don’t have it this good. Aucklanders (who have student discounts on public transport) don’t have any real student community; people typically commute into campus from as far away as the Shore or Mt Eden. It would suck to live like that – a half-hour commute just to grab a beer with some mates. Dense cities are simply nicer to live in.

We love that Wellington is so compact. We can walk or bike everywhere; our friends are our neighbours and our favourite haunts are just down the street. We should celebrate that. We don’t understand why VUWSA wants to sacrifice that compactness in the name of helping students who, for the most part, already have it pretty good. Truly fair fares are ones in which students pay their fair share.


Response to No:

Bullshit. Me and my flatmates definitely don’t feel privileged when we live in mould cause we can’t afford the power bill. In fact, we are among the hundreds of thousands who are struggling. The Community Services Card is there for those that need it and you know what? 90 per cent of students are entitled to one.

It would be great if we lived in a city that had affordable healthy flats in the CBD. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Wellington doesn’t. Fairer Fares will have a huge impact on our ability to feed ourselves, create equal access to education and increase the efficiency of our public-transport system.


The Fairer Fares campaign, launched by VUWSA in March this year, aims to get a tertiary concession for all public transport in the Wellington region.

Led by Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer Rick Zwaan, the campaign has already been well-received by a number of students, with more than 1500 signing petition postcards, and over 200 emailing councillors through the campaign’s website.

The campaign needs the support of the majority of Wellington Regional Council’s 13 councillors in order to be successful.

VUWSA is the key organisation funding the campaign, and has put $10,000 towards the cause so far.

The Fairer Fares Forum, a public meeting to discuss the campaign, will be held in the Hub on Wednesday 8 May at 1 pm.

More information and a form to submit your view to Wellington Regional Councillors can be found at


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  1. Rory says:

    Rick you suck!


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