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Supergold Card Travel Under Scrutiny

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, March 11 NZPA - Free off-peak travel for elderly people under the SuperGold card is set to exceed its annual $18 million budget and the Government is looking at ways of reining it in, which may impact on services.

A Transport Ministry/NZ Transport Agency discussion document released today suggests changes, including reducing the rate that providers are reimbursed; capping reimbursement payments; changing what services are eligible and removing or reducing payments for administration costs.

"After the first 12 months of operation it has become clear that in its present form, the scheme is not financially sustainable with the funding available," the document said.

"To assure the scheme's future sustainability, changes will need to be made to reduce costs. The aim of the review process is to develop recommendations for changing the scheme in a way that is fair to all while delivering enough cost savings to make it sustainable for the next few years."

About 8 million trips were made under the scheme in the first 12 months and growth in card holders was strong with an additional 20,000 new eligible users a year expected to use it. The scheme was introduced by the former Labour government as part of the New Zealand First Party's support agreement.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the scheme, which started in October 2008, would be retained but changes would have to be made.

About 540,000 elderly people (aged 65 and up) have the cards which entitle them to travel during off peak periods e.g. 9am-3pm on weekdays.

"The highest priority of the review process is to consider how to keep the scheme within the available budget of $18m a year, while continuing to provide improved mobility for older people," Mr Joyce said.

Officials would look at how "off peak" should be defined and consider eligibility of certain high cost services -- including the Waiheke ferry and the train service between Wellington and the Wairarapa.

"The transport concession of the SuperGold card has an annual budget of $18 million across the country -- $2 million of that is currently spent on the Waiheke ferry alone," Mr Joyce said.

Operators were compensated for the loss of revenue from SuperGold Card holders who previously paid but now did not.

"An increase in SuperGold Card trips in the years after the introduction of the scheme can result in operators being overcompensated for lost revenue -- as these additional trips are not replacing paid trips and are at marginal costs."

Reducing the reimbursement rate by one percentage point to 74 percent a year would save $250,000 annually and a 4 point reduction would save $1 million.

Introducing different reimbursement rates for different regions or services was another possibility.

"New Zealand could introduce different reimbursement rates for metro, urban and rural areas."

The document suggested capping reimbursement payments which could be done in addition to a lower rate. The cap could be applied to all services or negotiated with operators on specific services that contribute disproportionately to costs.

Service eligibility is also being looked at. The Waiheke ferry reimbursement rate was $13 per trip compared to $3.7 on the national average. It was the only island in the Hauraki Gulf covered.

The Airport Flyer in Wellington duplicated services provided by other bus and rail services for a higher cost.

Options for consultation included excluding premium fare services from the scheme unless they were the only one available for the journey or excluding very high cost services.

The document also looked at reducing administration costs which councils are able to claim. Councils claimed $340,000 in the first year and the NZTA took $475,000. Now there were no longer set up costs to meet the document raised the possibility of removing or reducing admin payments.

The document also sought views on what the off-peak period should be; and whether the card should have a photo ID to prevent fraud.

NZPA PAR mt nb

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