Almost cheaper to fly than go by train
By BELINDA SCOTT
LOSING their free pensioner train travel vouchers is proving a bitter blow for some Coffs Coast seniors.
Boambee pensioner Ron Marshman says charging seniors 15 per cent of their train fares as a booking fee is 'just a money-grabbing exercise.'
"The Government has no time for seniors," Mr Marshman said, "We're seeing it in so many areas."
Until March this year, pensioners received free vouchers for two return trips or four one-way trips within NSW each year. But in March the State Government introduced a booking fee, charged at $10 or 15 per cent of the full ticket price for each trip, whichever is higher.
Mr Marshman said the changes would see pensioners making fewer trips, travelling economy class, not first, and taking the car if the trip involved stopovers.
Mr Marshman said seniors preferred first class because of their disabilities as it gave them more room.
The NSW Leader of the National Party, Andrew Stoner, said the pensioner booking fee had reduced the number of pensioners using Countrylink services by 20 per cent while raising $1 million in its first three months of operation and the Nationals would abolish the booking fee if elected to government next year.
"I think the changes stink, to put it mildly," said pensioner Robyn McGuinness.
"I wouldn't mind a $10 booking fee but I think a percentage is a bit rough." Her husband, John, said the new charges made air travel much more attractive.
"Virgin must be smacking their lips," he said.
"The vouchers were there as a sweetener for pensioners, but all of a sudden Labor finds themselves in financial difficulties and they were looking for a way to fill up the coffers, but I don't think tackling the pensioners is a very favourable way to do it.
"I did appreciate what we were getting and I understand that rail has to make money," said Jeanette Lancaster, who was shocked to find air travel to Adelaide a similar price to rail.
"We are now trying to get cheap internet plane fares ? but it will stop some pensioners from travelling and a lot of pensioners can't go on the internet and get cheap fares."
Pensioners can still take advantage of the Countrylink pensioner excursion fare, which is $2.50 each way. From Coffs Harbour, pensioners can travel as far as Gloucester or Tweed Heads for $2.50.
But the majority of pensioners were using their free vouchers for longer trips to visit families or for medical appointments in capital cities.
A number of pensioners are confused about the new booking fee, with several reporting they had paid fares which were much higher than the voucher fare, believing they were simply paying the new booking fee.