From the start of April, ANU students from NSW will no longer be entitled to reduced price “student” transport fares in their home state. The move will bring NSW into line with other Australian states by refusing to recognise the status of students from interstate: students from Victoria and Queensland have long been paying full priced transport fares at home.

As Australia’s national university, the ANU attracts students from across the country. More than a third of domestic undergraduate students come from outside the ACT, with more than half of these from NSW (about one in five students).

In previous years, a reciprocal agreement in place between the ACT and NSW governments allowed ACT students the right to discounted travel in NSW. New requirements of residency mean most ANU students, even those with a family home in NSW, will no longer be eligible for concession fares in that state.

On Tuesday last week the ANU sent out an email to all students informing them that: “Most ANU students are unlikely to be eligible for travel concession in NSW under the 2014 guidelines”. Clarifying the situation, the Deputy Registrar adds in her email: “Discussions with NSW Transport have reaffirmed that distance or online students are not entitled to the concession, nor are students who maintain a residence in NSW (such as a family home) but otherwise reside in the ACT for the purposes of their study. Students returning home to NSW on the weekend or during semester breaks are not entitled to NSW travel concession.”

Given that so many ANU students come from NSW, and the rest undoubtedly often find reasons to travel to the state, the move will be a significant disincentive for students who have previously made regular weekend trips to Sydney. That students in the ACT will no longer be entitled to NSW concessions may even cause damage to the number of students seeking to come to the ANU from Sydney and other parts of NSW, given that moving to the ACT will cause a significantly increase to their transport costs back home.

The cause of the change has so far not been clarified, though Woroni is still awaiting responses from the NSW Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, and the ACT government. There are obviously financial motives for charging interstate students full price fares to boost public transport revenue, however it would be interesting to see whether doubling the fares paid by us non-resident and cash-poor students will have any significant impact on NSW Transport’s finances, or merely reduce the number of young visitors and encourage fare evasion.

In contrast, the ACT government continues to allow all tertiary students, regardless of their state of origin, the right to concession fares in the ACT. This stands in sharp contrast to the tight-fisted policies of neighbouring states, though of course Canberra’s public transport system is on a significantly smaller scale than those in existence in NSW or Victoria.

The changes must prompt renewed discussion on the need for a national student concession system. The issue was a popular one for the National Union of Students in previous years, but seems to have fallen off the agenda recently. However at ANUSA’s General Meeting this week, President Cam Wilson did once again raise the issue as one of concern for the Student Association. All the same, the federal government is unlikely to be able to negotiate such a scheme nationally, or, in any case, not quickly, and as such, reciprocal arrangements, like that previously in existence between NSW and the ACT, provide a straightforward way of reducing students’ travel costs.

The big picture question here is to ask why we discount fares for students at all. Perhaps we believe students should be entitled to cheaper rates because of notions of equity or proportionality, because people should be able to access public transport on any budget. Perhaps it’s because we want to encourage young people to use and rely on public transport or because it helps prevent fare evasion by making ticket prices more affordable for students. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem to add up that state governments can afford to reduce the prices for their own students, but not extend the gesture to those from interstate. Unless public transport is just one big revenue raising exercise after all.

 

Affected students are urged to write to their NSW Member of Parliament, or to the NSW Transport Minister.