Australia

Qld university students to pay more for public transport, Jonathan Sri speaks up

Queensland university students board a bus in Brisbane. Students face losing their concession fares because a public transport loophole doesn’t grant cheaper fares to external students. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled

Frustrated tertiary students have been “blindsided” by having their public transport concession fares stripped off them as they brace for another semester of studying externally.

Earlier this week, scores of students, including Oliver Corfield, received a message from TransLink, advising them their GoCards had expired as they were “not studying internally on campus”.

Mr Corfield, an honours student in exercise and sports science, commutes up to 45 minutes each way to get to the University of Queensland, and while most courses were moved externally last semester in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s still required to complete lab work on campus.

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It’s exposed a loophole in how a concession is defined, with reduced fares only granted for those students who study internally. Mr Corfield said this had failed to take into consideration the lack of choice students had over how their courses were delivered this year.

A text message Oliver Corfield received from TransLink stopping his concession fares on public transport because he is no longer studying 'internally' at the University of Queensland.
A text message Oliver Corfield received from TransLink stopping his concession fares on public transport because he is no longer studying ‘internally’ at the University of Queensland.

“Last semester I was at uni maybe four days a week, and I would probably spend about $20 a week on public transport,” he said.

“Adult fares are much more, and students will struggle. I’ve got it a bit better than others at the moment, I’m back at work (after being stood down in March at the gym he works at) but that’s still reduced.

“A lot of others don’t have the luxury of being back at work and making money.”

Mr Corfield said students were still adjusting to undertaking massive course loads online and could not be expected to be earning enough to pay full fares on public transport.

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While some have pointed the finger at TransLink, a TransLink spokesman said ultimately the eligibility for concession fares rested with the educational institution.

“In March this year, TransLink advised all institutions to relax our normal business rules given that so many tertiary courses were forced to move online and external due to the risks of COVID-19,” the spokesman said.

“As such, any student who would otherwise have been eligible but due to COVID is now studying externally through no fault of their own is continuing to receive tertiary concession fares.

“As of today, in southeast Queensland there are over 100,000 students who continue to be eligible for, and are travelling on, concession fares.”

TransLink said students concerned about their concession fares expiring should immediately contact their institution’s administration.

Queensland university students are seen near a bus stop in Brisbane. Students face losing their concession fares because a public transport loophole doesn't grant cheaper fares to external students. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled
Queensland university students are seen near a bus stop in Brisbane. Students face losing their concession fares because a public transport loophole doesn’t grant cheaper fares to external students. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled

Mr Corfield said he wasn’t aware there was a difference between internal and external students when qualifying for concession rates.

Brisbane City Councillor Jonathan Sri said the discrimination between “internal” and “external” students needed to stop in order to ensure all full-time university and TAFE students were eligible for concession fares.

He said it was “silly and unfair” that eligibility for concession fares was based on whether students studied internally or externally, but either way those students had fewer opportunities to make an income.

“Historically, the justification for student fare discounts was not specifically about facilitating affordable travel to your actual tertiary institution … it’s that anyone studying full time has fewer opportunities to work in paid employment, thus their capacity to pay for public transport is lower in general,” he said.

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“That’s not how other low-income concession fares work.

“While they’re at it, they (the Queensland Labor Party) should also ensure that students who are enrolled at universities in other states but currently are in Queensland are eligible for student concessions on our public transport.”

Cr Sri said due to COVID-19 many tertiary institutions had been forced to go online, with courses being redesignated as “external” rather than “internal”. He said he had been contacted by students who were suddenly notified their student GoCard had “expired” because they no longer met the eligibility criteria of being enrolled internally.

“This whole situation is extremely messed up,” he said.

“At the same time that so many students have lost paid work in industries like retail, hospitality and the arts, they’re also potentially losing access to concession public transport fares.

“The long-term flow-on impacts would be dramatic if a whole generation of tertiary students are discouraged from using public transport.”

A university student waits for her bus in Brisbane. Students face losing their concession fares because a public transport loophole doesn't grant cheaper fares to external students. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled
A university student waits for her bus in Brisbane. Students face losing their concession fares because a public transport loophole doesn’t grant cheaper fares to external students. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled

Cr Siri said there was a “relatively quick and easy fix” and asked the Department of Transport and Main Roads to tweak the eligibility criteria for tertiary student concession fares so all full-time students were eligible, regardless of whether they’re enrolled internally or externally.

Mr Corfield said concession fares should be reinstated for students in order to make life easier for those hard done by amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It seems like students have been overlooked, I’m sure it’s not deliberate, but it seems not much thought went into this,” he said.

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“A bit more understanding of the situation we’re in … our income situation hasn’t changed, in fact it’s probably gotten more difficult.

“To increase the cost of public transport seems a bit counterintuitive. It shows a lack of recognition of the situation students are in.”

In a letter to the Transport Minister, Maiwar MP Michael Berkman said he was concerned about what this meant for tertiary educations students.

“It seems unfair that students’ eligibility depends on whether they are enrolled as internal or external students, given the historical reason for student fare discounts is not specifically about facilitating affordable travel to a … tertiary institution, but that anyone studying full time has less opportunities to work in paid employment,” he wrote.

“This is recognised by many institutions, from cafes, to gyms, cinemas and shops.

“In the case of public transport, this is an essential service for students.”

Mr Berkman said he was particularly concerned about the move during COVID-19 when many students had been hard hit economically.

“A larger proportion of students are engaged in short-term casual work where they cannot access JobKeeper, and many are in more vulnerable industries such as hospitality,” he said.

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