AN annual increase of 24 cents a year from the present price of $2.24, resulting in a 2024 fare of $3.20. That's what the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal determined in February when it set the maximum fares that passengers would have to pay on the Newcastle light rail, the Stockton ferry and bus journeys of three kilometres or less.
Instead of the recommended phased increases, the NSW government has introduced the 2024 maximum from this week.
Even if the government says it can do this because the changes do not "exceed" the maximum laid down by IPART, the four-year hit on the hip pockets of passengers is substantially greater than what IPART would have calculated in setting the fares.
For its part, the government's Transport for NSW agency is putting the blame for the changes on COVID-19, saying that fares are going up during peak periods to encourage "active transport" - the latest bureaucratic jargon for walking, cycling, scootering or skateboarding - and to "alleviate crowding" on public transport during peak times.
The government has decided to increase the 0-3km bus and light rail fares to $3.20 during peak periods to encourage active transport and alleviate crowding on these services during peak timesTransport for NSW
To emphasise the price signal, the government has introduced an off-peak fare at the old cost of $2.24, discounted to $1.60 for three months, as part of its "social distancing" program.
What this means, however, is that operating parameters for Newcastle public transport are once again being set by considerations in Sydney.
The importance of social distancing in helping control coronavirus goes without saying, but Newcastle's problem has been attracting people on to public transport, not keeping them off it, or urging them to travel out of peak times.
As a result, the reasoning used to justify the changes does not stand close scrutiny. Additionally, the 96-cent increase in the light rail fare brings into focus a fundamental problem with the fare structure.
Even fans of the light rail will acknowledge that as well as replacing the final two heavy rail stops at Civic and Newcastle, it spelled the end of the "fare free zone" for Newcastle Buses, which had operated from 7.30am to 6pm, seven days a week, since 2004.
At $2.24 for a full or partial journey, the light rail is not conducive to "jump on, jump off" use.
At $3.20, an increase of almost 43 per cent, it's even less so.
Time-based fares - which operated in Newcastle a decade or so ago - would be one solution.
Either that, or a per-stop fare is introduced - an easy enough change in this era of cashless digital funds transfer, whether by credit card or OPAL.
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN OTHER NEWS:
- Tighter restrictions looming for NSW as cafes, restaurants flout rules
- Dating app trap: alleged victim struck in head with sword after being lured with sex
- Hunter company sets up digital medical prescription service
- Developer Keith Johnson wants to resolve Cooranbong subdivision standoff with Lake council
- Latest coronavirus snapshot