The Supergold Card, lifeline for many older citizens, is back in the news following an outburst from NZ First leader Winston Peters accusing the Government of effectively phasing out the scheme. Peters staged a protest on a Wellington train commuter service yesterday to get his point across that changes being introduced by the Government on 1st July would herald reduced benefits for Supercard holders.
The New Zealand First leader says changes that come into force on July 1 will be the beginning of the end of free transport for seniors because councils will forced to cough up more cash.
The changes will see the current funding model moved from the Government paying operators around the country to local councils being given a set amount for buses, trains and ferries in their areas -- regardless of whether Gold Card patronage numbers increase or fall.
On top of that is a new cap on the Government’s overall budget for the scheme, which is $28M each year for the next 5 years and it won’t increase if the number of card holders increases.
Mr Peters says local councils already pay current funding shortfalls and the changes will force them to absorb even more costs.
He says that shortfall will build up over time and eventually see free public transport for over 65s cut back.
"You can't bulk-fund increasing numbers, unless you increase the bulk-fund with the number, and they’re not."
"Hands off the SuperGold Card, stop telling people lies. You're putting a cap on expenditure and passing responsibility to councils and you’ll start blaming them for this when you’re responsible."
It is probable that Waiheke Gold Card holders under a Waiheke Unitary Authority would lose access to free travel on the island and for ferry departures from the island between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, as the current subsidy for these hours applies within Auckland Council boundaries only.
Regional Councils, such as a Waiheke Unitary Authority (WUC) proposed by OW, will be required have their own Smartcards, a cost not included in the OW budget. Residents would be required to pay for their own Smartcards. WUC would also be required to negotiate for a share of the capped government budget of $28 million. As the $28 million is fully utilised by other Councils it is unlikely Waiheke would receive anything.
It would also mean that Waiheke residents would no longer be able to use their HOP cards in Auckland with the consequent loss of free travel on Auckland Transport buses and trains.
No wonder they call it OW: the element of pain it would inflict on Waiheke locals is only just beginning to be understood.