Free public transport would benefit everyone, especially those on low incomes.
In the recent SA State Liberal Budget, one of the key budget measures announced was a significant cut to bus services in South Australia.
The Government is touting a $15 million saving from discontinuing bus services deemed to have “low patronage”.
The Budget came amidst the backdrop of the Poverty Inquiry in South Australia that is ramping up with hearings over the next few weeks.
But are the low numbers using bus services because they are not needed, or because the public transport system in South Australia isn’t accessible enough?
Public transport in South Australia is currently set at a concession-fare basis.
Yet, the Anti-Poverty Network SA is advocating for free public transport for students, the unemployed or those on low incomes on a Health Care Card, in line with the current rates for those on a Seniors Card.
The network says that the current rates are a barrier to accessing public transport in the State, as those living in poverty cannot afford the upfront costs associated with public transport concession cards.
Tammy Lee Headon, a co-state coordinator for the Anti-Poverty Network in South Australia, says:
"Our government should be focused on developing strategies and policy which enables and empowers people to participate in community life - instead of creating further barriers."
Recipients of the Seniors Card enjoy free public transport between 9am-3pm and between 7pm-midnight on weekdays and on Sundays. This allows for increased mobility and equitable access to public transport. Yet, this isn’t an option for students and the unemployed.
Kat Lee, who is unemployed, thinks:
"As an unemployed person who struggles to pay rent each week, the added cost of public transport fares means I don't venture anywhere I can’t walk to.
There are things just about every day where, if there was not a services provider, I have no idea how I would attend appointments."
Monthly passes require people to buy their fares upfront. The Anti-Poverty Network argues that those on a low income cannot always do this because they experience greater levels of financial hardship and precariousness.
Access to concession fares in South Australia currently requires the possession of a Transport Concession Card. In other states, possession of a Health Care Card is sufficient to be eligible for public transport concession fares.
This inconsistency creates confusion for people and leads to those on low-incomes travelling on costly full-price fares or running the risk of incurring expensive fines.
The Anti-Poverty Network says requiring people to apply for a Transport Concession Card when there is a precedent for using a Health Care Card as evidence of low-income is needlessly bureaucratic, wasteful and it risks people receiving unnecessary transport costs or fines.
Sara, a young retail worker, says:
"I spend on average $50 on public transport per fortnight, mostly for work. I do not have a concession entitlement and have almost been fined, being told that a Health Care Card is inadequate.
When I last applied for a Transport Concession Card, the Department of Human Services (DHS) sent me another Health Care Card by mistake! Having free public transport, or at least having the cost of public transport reduced, or having concession eligibility extended to the working poor, would mean I can afford healthier and more diverse food options, and participate in hobbies and community activities — including volunteering more often."
Navigating the different public transport options is also a barrier that public transport users face in Adelaide. Unlike in cities like Melbourne and Sydney, there are no cross-city transport options.
Denise, a professional currently out of work, has said:
"One of the things that I find is that the public transport system works if you’re working. But if you’re not working, finding your way around is hard because sometimes you need two or three different modes of transport.
You could be on a bus, on a tram, or a train, so coordinating all of those is quite difficult. This is much easier if you’re going to work, but if you’re going to different people, different employers to find work, or different businesses, it makes it really hard to get around."
Public transport users also say that the State Government employs punitive measures to target those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, stationing security at public spaces such as the Salisbury Interchange.
Aidan, a Newstart recipient, has seen:
"In the last couple of months at Salisbury Interchange the Government has stationed about six people as pseudo-security guards, paying people to wait for public transport users to leave the train so they can hassle them to see if they’ve paid their fares or not.
It’s indicative of the reality we live in where a poor area like Salisbury is being targeted punitively and unnecessarily for fines. It’s hard to understand where they would get the statistics on [fare evasion] specifically for the Salisbury area."
Rather than expanding and making public transport more accessible, South Australians are seeing cuts and unfair measures introduced to make the lives of underprivileged people even harder. Public transport is a public good, and we need to start treating it that way.
Published with permission from Independent Australia. Click here to read the original article.