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The battle for cheaper public transport fares for Wellington students has come to a head in the last two weeks, with VUWSA attending two Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) meetings to make submissions on the issue.
The Fairer Fares campaign was launched by Victoria University Students’ Association (VUWSA) in 2013, highlighting Wellington’s lack of student transport discounts. Auckland, Palmerston North, and Waikato all provide free or heavily discounted fares for students.
The campaign has been a constant for many university students, with progress stagnating in 2014 when it was stipulated that tertiary institutions would need to help fund it. Since then, VUWSA have slowly been working over councillors, with some — like Sue Kedgley — pledging their support in the local election. However, other councillors are yet to be convinced, such as former Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington, Ian McKinnon.
The GWRC convened on February 22 to hear submissions about the discounts. VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin called upon the council to act, stating that “we, and the students we represent, are asking you to be a council of action.” He was supported by National Party MP Chris Bishop, who stressed that discounting fares for students was “the equitable and right thing to do.” Bishop pointed out that “Wellington is clearly an outlier both nationally and internationally in terms of student discounts,” and that if if the council wanted more students from their respective regions to study then they would have to make it affordable for them.
After this meeting, the Consultation Document for the GWRC Annual Plan was released. The document included a commitment to consider the issue, but councillors are still reluctant to take full financial responsibility.
VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin responded to the Consultation Document in a following Council meeting, on March 2, stating, “the responsibility for funding lies squarely with the council.”
“However, if progress is truly hinging on other parties; then let’s see the GWRC truly put their weight behind getting people in a room and having this conversation. […] We’ll do what we can, but if a volunteer student organisation is being relied upon to [coordinate] parties, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands then tertiary discounts.”
Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University, said to Salient last week that the university is “open to exploring options for how tertiary student concession fares can be successfully delivered but the process needs to be led by the GWRC, as the ones running the public transport network, and needs to involve all the tertiary education providers in the region.”
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester has also supported the campaign, suggesting that the Wellington City Council could dedicate funds towards the discounts in their 2018–19 Annual Plan. “This will go a long way for students… I’m committed to working with the regional council towards this.”
With the GWRC Annual Plan being approved in April 2017, Rory had described it as “crucial” that a commitment is made now.
“For years we’ve been told, ‘yes,’ but with conditions. But now the time has truly come for action. The time for consideration is over, and the time for action is now.”