Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Auckland’s Inner Link bus route has a new electric bus as part of its fleet (Video March 2019).

The government is holding off deciding whether to re-instate the underwriting of public transport fare revenue, which has been decimated by the nationwide lockdown.

The subsidy pumped $115 million into regional council coffers over the past year after being introduced in July 2020 to support services hit during the first Covid-19 lockdowns.

The Minister of Transport Michael Wood said Auckland Council and other regional councils had requested the support, but no commitment had yet been made.

Auckland Transport (AT) had been the biggest beneficiary of the scheme, receiving more than $69 million by the time it ended in July, just weeks before the current Delta-variant-driven alert level 4.

READ MORE:

* Wellington’s public transport operator says no passengers will be turned away during Covid-19 alert level 4

* Covid-19: Alert level 4 costs Auckland Transport $5 million a week in missed fares

* Covid-19: $115m subsidy to help with public transport fare slump to end

Wood said a partial subsidy was effectively in place, with Waka Kotahi continuing to pay the 51 per cent share it contributes to public transport services, but that was less than the previous support.

Stuff asked whether a decision might follow a clearer picture on how long Auckland might remain in Alert Level 4 or 3 restrictions, and Wood said that may be a further reason to consider it.

“While public transport still operates, it is at a lesser frequency, so some costs are reduced,” said Wood.

AT said early in alert level 4, that it was short of around $5 million in revenue a week, mostly from fares and parking.

Buses are frequently running empty leaving local bodies with cash shortfalls during Covid-19 lockdown.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Buses are frequently running empty leaving local bodies with cash shortfalls during Covid-19 lockdown.

Public transport patronage fell to less than 5 per cent of pre-lockdown levels on the first day of alert level 4, nearly 18,000 trips compared with nearly 280,000 a week earlier.

Wood said calculating a new subsidy scheme would require new information from the councils which run and part-fund them.

In Auckland, most services have switched to a less-frequent weekend timetable, but with travel allowed only for essential purposes, or by essential workers, numbers of passengers are low.

Public transport patronage is down to less than 5 per cent of pre-lockdown times.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Public transport patronage is down to less than 5 per cent of pre-lockdown times.

Public transport use was still more than 20 per cent lower than before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and the lower revenue has been a big contributor to Auckland Council’s financial hit.

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff told a recent council meeting that he had written to Wood asking for a return of the full underwrite.

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