Cost of Living

Not smart enough

A plan to provide free public transport once a month does not go far enough to help struggling West Australians, advocates say.

The state government announced it would provide free public transport for SmartRider holders on the first Sunday of every month, from June 4, as part of the 2023-24 state budget cost of living support package.

Advocates say struggling West Australians need help with transport costs throughout the week. Photo: Premila Ratnam.

Anglicare WA chief executive officer Mark Glasson said the initiative did have some benefit but did not come close to the level of support needed.

“This is good news for families who would otherwise struggle to afford something as simple as a Sunday out with their kids,” said Mr Glasson. 

“However, while this announcement is welcome, it is only going to save families a maximum of $10 a month, while they’ll be paying more to catch public transport during the rest of the month.”

St Vincent de Paul Society community engagement services executive manager Andrew York agreed transport assistance throughout the week was crucial.

“Any support that helps low-income earners is welcome,” said Mr York.

“However, our data shows that many clients require support with transport on other days of the week, to attend work or medical appointments or to take the kids to school.”

Andrew York

The state government said the initiative was intended to complement the existing two-zone cap scheme.

According to the Western Australian Council for Social Service, the two-zone cap scheme has improved transport affordability for people living in outer-suburban areas.

The two-zone cap has made transport more affordable for those living in Perth’s outer suburbs, according to WACOSS. Graphic: Premila Ratnam.

However, the cost of public transport is still a significant issue for some West Australians.

Recent transport affordability data from the Australian Automobile Association shows the average Perth household spends $45 per week, or more than $2,300 per year, on public transport.

The Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia found transport costs can significantly affect those who are struggling financially.

In its most recent 100 Families WA study, almost 24 per cent of participants said transport accessibility and affordability was a significant barrier to gaining employment.

Young West Australians impacted by cost-of-living pressures face similar issues.

Transport costs can be a barrier to education for some young Australians. Photo: Premila Ratnam.

National Union of Students WA branch president Dylan Botica said the new initiative could help ease the cost of socialising on the weekends, but it did not address the real impact of transport costs on young people.

Mr Botica said the initiative was “tinkering around the edges” of what was a major issue for some students.

“When you’re getting down to every dollar really mattering, then sometimes the cost of public transport can be just enough to stop someone wanting to be able to take that bus or take that train to get to university,” he said. “That is a factor that is reducing people’s capacity to pursue their education.

“Public transport — it should be free more often. It should be free Monday to Friday and days when you’ve actually got to go and get yourself to [university].

“Sunday seems like a day when they’ve already got very low usage of public transport.”

National Union of Students WA president Dylan Botica

For Perth PhD student Romana-Rea Begicevic the new initiative is helpful.

Romana-Rea Begicevic uses public transport every day. Photo: Premila Ratnam.

Ms Begicevic stopped driving in 2017 and now travels exclusively by public transport in Perth.

She supported the idea of free public transport throughout the week, but said she looked forward to public transport being free one day per month for now.

“Now that I know about this, it gives me a little bit of foresight to do some pre-planning and maybe do my grocery shopping on that day,” Ms Begicevic said. “I’ll definitely use the initiative. I’m all for it.”