By Irra Lee
Free weekend travel for under-16s on Auckland's public transport is set to start from tomorrow.
Auckland Transport has extended free bus, train and selected ferry services during weekends and public holidays for five- to 15-year-olds with a registered AT HOP card with a child concession.
Children under the age of five already travel free with a paying adult at any time. Tomorrow's extension will not require an accompanying adult. However, the agency said it advises caregivers to supervise younger children.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he hoped the free travel would encourage future public transport users.
"Making public transport free for under-16s on weekends and public holidays will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and use existing capacity," he said in a statement.
"Every person on public transport is one less car on the roads, helping to reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion."
The move is part of a $1.1 million contribution from Auckland Council towards public transport initiatives announced earlier in the year.
The initiative was one of several council looked at to increase public transport usage. An Auckland Transport spokesperson said the free weekend fares for under-16s was "the easiest to implement and, at the time, easiest to fund".
The spokesperson said the agency was also looking into the commercial feasibility of everyday free public transport for under-16s.
Auckland Transport officials expect patronage to increase by 989,000 due to the initiative.
Councillors Chris Darby and Richard Hills backed the move.
"The cost of public transport is a big barrier to young people and families getting around and connecting," Mr Darby said.
Mr Hills said it was a "step forward in making public transport more affordable and accessible for families and young people".
Veisinia Maka, chairperson of the council's Youth Advisory Panel, said she was "pleasantly surprised this came through".
The panel, which advises council on matters important to youth, had been advocating for affordable and accessible transport options since the start of their term three years ago. Members had discussed the topic with transport executives since then.
Ms Maka said she was pleased council was willing to listen to young people. Youth voices were something council had not always considered fully, she said.
"I think it's a great start," she said. "Not everything can get changed."
She said she was especially happy to hear about the free weekend fares after the introduction of Auckland's regional fuel tax. Ms Maka said she had heard stories of the burden families faced travelling with their children, particularly in lower socio-economic communities.
A spokesperson from climate action group Generation Zero said transport agency's latest move was "a significant improvement".
"Public transport is an important step in changing our impact on the environment," the group's spokesperson told 1 NEWS.
However, the spokesperson said council "should go further with greater discounts for students and community service cardholders".
"Ideally weekends should have free transport for all," they said.
"Cheaper public transport gives [young people] the freedom to move around as is possible in many European and American cities. By making public transit accessible and encouraging these behaviours while young, they grow up understanding and valuing this transport mode."
The group campaigned earlier this year for cheaper fares to incentivise public transport use. They said council and AT's capability to implement new pricing mechanisms are limited by the NZTA's 2010 farebox recovery policy.
The policy requires fares to cover half of Auckland's public transport operating costs.