Removing cash payments from Wellington buses ‘will hurt vulnerable users’

Some members of Greater Wellington Regional Council’s own public transport advisory group are opposing the removal of cash payments from peak-hour express bus services in the capital.

They say cashless buses on the city’s current network have little benefits and seriously hurt the city’s most vulnerable users.

Metlink is set to trial the removal of cash payments from services 30x, 31x, 32x, 85x starting in June.

It’s part of Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (GWRC) effort to increase contactless payments across the network ahead of a delayed and long-awaited national integrated ticketing system.

GWRC chairman Daran Ponter told the Herald earlier this week the council was committed to eventually removing cash payments altogether but needed to work through the implications of the move.

“These payments create higher transaction costs, it means cash has to be handled, buses slow down at bus stops, and from time-to-time bus drivers are clipped over the head for their money boxes.”

Wellington bus customers use Snapper cards for contactless payments

But some of GWRC’s public transport advisory group members, who were appointed to represent public transport users, have reported push back.

They have written to the council’s transport committee submitting on the issue in their personal capacity.

“We think reducing dwell times, travel times and cash handling are all laudable goals – however cashless buses on our current network [have] little benefits and seriously hurt our most vulnerable users”, they wrote.

They argued the proposal has serious equity impacts.

They said many vulnerable bus users, including disabled people and the elderly, only use cash or find it difficult to access online or physical top-up stations.

Some people were in precarious financial situations and could not afford the upfront cost of a Snapper card, they said.

Members said removing cash from services due to Covid-19 had left some people stranded with a long, dangerous, or impossible walk to the nearest top up location.

“Trying and using public transport should be made a comfortable experience for everyone. For some it is their only possible mode of transport and a Snapper card is not a practical option. This proposal is extremely regressive and should not be furthered.”

They also warned there could be confusion as the trial was only on express services and that it would distract important council resources from more pressing issues.

Members said time savings would be small compared to the cost on users who forget to top up their Snapper cards or vulnerable people who don’t use them.

They said the biggest benefits would actually come from bus priority measures, especially on the Golden Mile.

These measures were meant to be part of Let’s Get Wellington Moving’s “quick wins”.

But a recent health check revealed the $6.4 billion project had leadership problems, a detrimental culture, inadequate resourcing, and ultimately that it was at risk of failing.

In response, an additional programme director is being appointed to oversee a new short-term three-year programme to finally secure these quick wins.

Advisory group members who made the submission to GWRC are Marko Garlick, Ben Peterson, Lily Chalmers, Kaeden Watts, Raewyn Hailes, Genevieve McLachlan, Thomas Bryan and Vaughn Liley.

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