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Public transport is the future for Tāmaki Makaurau – so why not make it fare-free? – Dr Jen McArthur

Transport funding is a famously dry subject. Regardless, mayoral candidate Efeso Collins’ promise to introduce fare-free public transport has sparked much debate over who pays for bus and rail services. There is a lot at stake in this debate. Your commute or experience of travelling around the city is an integral part of everyday life in Tāmaki Makaurau. The costs of transport, and what it gives you access to, influence your opportunities for education, jobs and staying in touch with family and friends.

Over the past three months, I interviewed local officials, campaigners and advocates in cities with fare-free public transport to learn from their experiences, for a research report commissioned by FIRST Union and the Public Service Association, with the support of Efeso Collins' campaign. This research showed how fare-free policies have emerged as a pragmatic solution to the challenges facing many cities in 2022: inequalities shaped by unaffordable transport services, ambitious emissions-reduction targets, and the need to attract riders back to public transport after the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. The growth of public transport use in Tāmaki Makaurau since the early 2000s, paired with the city’s ambitious climate change targets, points to a future where high quality, frequent and affordable public transport can and should be a normal part of life. But bold decisions must be taken now to make that future possible. Going fare-free, in conjunction with reforms to ensure that public transport operators and staff have fair pay and decent working conditions, can help make this future a reality.

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