University student bus subsidies a direct outcome of paid parking

10 August 2016

VC and Paula Southgate

Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley with Waikato Regional Council Chair Paula Southgate.

University of Waikato students will receive a 30% discount when using the region’s buses from next year.

Thanks to revenue generated from paid parking, the University of Waikato will subsidise bus fares for students who use a BUSIT card. The bus subsidy has been under consideration since parking fees on the university’s Hamilton campus were first announced in June last year.

The region’s bus services are administered by the Waikato Regional Council, which will sign an agreement with the university for the subsidy to begin in February 2017.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley thanked the Waikato Regional Council for its support in making the subsidy a reality. “My thanks especially to Chair Paula Southgate whose support for the development of this arrangement was instrumental in the Council and the University reaching an agreement so quickly. Paula shares our vision and understands the importance of creating a sustainable and affordable transport solution for our students.”

The 30% discount for University of Waikato students will be applied to the adult BUSIT card rate, reducing it from $2.40 to $1.70 a trip, with the university picking up the tab for the rest. The BUSIT card rate is already significantly cheaper than the single adult cash fare of $3.30.

The discount covers all routes in Hamilton, plus regional routes to and from Hamilton. The discount will be applied at all times of day and for every day of the year for current enrolled university students with a valid ID and BUSIT card.

Paid parking about changing behaviours

The rising costs of providing parking (land leases and maintenance) resulted in the university introducing parking fees on its Hamilton campus in February this year. Part of the rationale was to manage the demand for parking spaces on campus, ensuring the university did not need to provide additional parking in the future, while also promoting more sustainable transport options.

Parking fees were set carefully to minimise the impact on students. The nominal fee is $2 a day, but the $6 a week concession costs $1.20/day and the student-only semester concession at $60 is even less if bought at the beginning of semester.

The Vice-Chancellor floated the idea for a bus subsidy last year when paid parking was first announced. “We are an institution that is committed to sustainability so it is a natural fit to be encouraging more environmentally sustainable transport options for our students.”

Professor Quigley says financial drivers are important for changing behaviours and that by providing free parking, the university was essentially subsidising those who drove to campus anyway, and paying for it through tuition fees.  “We hope the bus subsidy, combined with parking fees, will encourage more students to use the public transport option, reducing the reliance on cars and reducing the pressure for carparks on campus.”

The bus subsidy ensures that those students who live too far away to walk or cycle to campus have an affordable alternative to driving.

Support for an affordable option

Waikato Students’ Union President Indula Jayasundara welcomed the bus subsidy announcement. Mr Jayasundara, who was closely involved in the implementation of paid parking, said students would be pleased by news of the discounted bus fares. “They will have excellent options for getting to and from campus, and getting around the city and in and out of Hamilton. It’s a great step for us and I applaud the Regional Council and the university for listening to students’ needs.”

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations has also praised the initiative, saying transport is a significant barrier for students accessing tertiary education and employment.

Bus usage by students

The university’s Hamilton campus is a key destination in Hamilton’s extensive bus service, with trips to and from campus making up around 6% of all bus trips in Hamilton in March. Two routes terminate in the campus itself, Route 13 (University) and Route 17 (Ham East/Uni), and the Orbiter service, which circles the city clockwise and anti-clockwise, stops on Knighton Road outside Gate 2, the university’s main access for pedestrians.

Despite this, bus patronage by students is still low when compared to the use of vehicles for getting to and from campus.

According to a travel behaviours survey undertaken by the university last year, only 7% of staff and students regularly used the bus to get to campus, while single-occupancy vehicles made up about half of the more than 1000 responders’ travel habits. Barriers to bus travel included that it took too long, was too inconvenient, and that fares were too expensive.

Professor Quigley says the survey responses helped cement the decision to introduce a bus subsidy. “It suggested that if either the bus fare was reduced, or driving/parking was made more expensive, bus travel would increase. We now have an opportunity to test this theory and I am confident that we will see some positive results.”

Creating better access to tertiary study

The university’s commitment to ensuring its students have an affordable campus transport option extends beyond the city-limits.

Te Ara ki Angitū: Pathways to Excellence programme was launched this year. Designed in partnership with local secondary schools, the initiative sees the University of Waikato provide a heavily subsidised bus service that creates a direct corridor from the regions to the Hamilton campus, making university more accessible for young people living in these regions. Initially offered in Tokoroa and Putaruru, the programme is now being extended to include more Waikato towns:                

  • Ngāruawāhia, Huntly, Te Kauwhata
  • Thames and Hauraki
  • Piopio, Te Kuiti and Otorohanga
  • Matamata Piako
  • Coromandel, Whitianga and Whangamata

Caption: University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley and Waikato Regional Council Chair Paula Southgate. The university will pay to subsidise cheaper bus fares for University of Waikato students.