Member of North West Central and The Nationals WA Spokesperson for Transport, Vince Catania MLA, today highlighted the detrimental impact the Governments supposed cost saving changes to the Student Travel Subsidies and Pensioner Annual Free Trip Scheme will have on regional residents and families.
A new contract allowing the Department of Transport to access more cost-effective travel options has resulted in the cap on refunded fares being less for travel undertaken from August 2019, now leaving many regional pensioners and students out of pocket.
“Again, the Government has short changed regional residents, many who will be faced with paying a significant gap of between $200 – $500 plus towards their “free” airfare, due to appropriate fare levels not being available at short notice, coupled with extremely costly fares,” said Mr Catania.
“Under the previous subsidised travel arrangements, for example in December 2018 a return fare to the value of $1327 was offered from Broome to Perth, however the same fare available in August 2019 was quoted as being $1010 – a reduction of $317, further reducing the travel options for a pensioner or resulting in a greater gap to be paid by the pensioner should they need to travel urgently”.
Many pensioners are compelled to use their free airfares at short notice for reasons such as medical requirements due to changes in the PATS subsidies or in family emergencies, however given the recent changes to travel subsidies they may not be able to utilise their “free” trip when required.
Students whose families reside in regional areas often have no choice but to board children in the metropolitan areas to ensure they receive an education and also rely on student subsidies to enable them to spend time at their homes.
With flights from Perth to regional WA locations being among the most expensive in the world, many residents are forced to take regular long car or bus trips, often detrimental to their health and safety and further emphasising the reliance particularly by pensioners and students on subsidised travel.
Mr Catania said regional air travel was an essential service for many communities, and called for swift intervention to review and remediate this situation to ensure regional students and pensioners are not in a worse position than before the changes to Student Travel Subsidies and Pensioner Annual Free Trip Scheme came into effect.
“The Government’s complete lack of understanding of the impact of recent changes is clearly driven solely by the bottom line as opposed to consideration for the health, well-being and needs of regional pensioners and students,” he said.