EXCLUSIVE: Local fare scheme extended until 2022
By MATT NICHOLLS
SUBSIDISED air fares for Cape York and Torres Strait residents will continue for at least another 12 months, with the state government to announce today the Local Fare Scheme will be extended.
It is a coup for the state’s most isolated people who have come to rely on the scheme to travel to and from Cairns, as well as other Far North communities.
It will also provide a boost for airlines such as Skytrans, Rex and even Qantas, who have struggled to maintain previous levels of passengers during the pandemic.
Cape York Weekly understands the scheme costs the government about $6 million per annum, although the economic benefits to the region are worth much more.
While the extension is just for 12 months and will form part of this week’s budget, department insiders say it’s likely the Local Fare Scheme will become a permanent fixture at next year’s budget.
Member for Cook Cynthia Lui said almost 100,000 trips had been taken on the scheme since the Palaszczuk government reintroduced it in July 2015.
“We’re pleased to be able to provide assurance to residents in these communities that travel will remain affordable until at least June next year,” Ms Lui said.
“This budget is all about ensuring Queenslanders continue to have access to essential services, and extending the Local Fare Scheme is part of the Palaszczuk government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.
“Many remote towns in the Far North are a whole day’s drive from regional centres so reduced flight costs really are a lifeline.”
The Local Fare Scheme provides a discount of up to $400 for a return fare for eligible residents in Cape York, the Gulf and Torres Strait, facilitating affordable travel for access to health, education and allied services while promoting social and recreational connections.
Transport and Main Road Minister Mark Bailey said the state government’s $54.5 million Essential Transport Services Package kept travel operators afloat when COVID-19 hit the world last year.
“The Essential Transport Services Package kept planes in the sky, buses on the roads, and boats in the water across the Far North,” he said.
“These are critical services helping get health workers to remote communities and residents to essential services.
“Qantas, Rex and Skytrans flights, Thursday Island ferries, and Cairns bus services were all given support.
“And we’ll be extending this support, with a further $16.3 million until the end of 2021, to make sure they keep going.”
Torres Strait Regional Authority chairman Pedro Stephen welcomed the extension.
“Safe, accessible and affordable transport options increase opportunities to access employment and social and cultural support services, including health and education,” he said.
“We’re thrilled to hear the Local Fare Scheme has been extended for another 12 months because it means so much more to these communities than simply cheaper flights.
“I encourage all residents of these communities to have a look at the criteria and apply for the scheme if they believe they may be eligible.”
To qualify for discounted flights, local residents require a letter of eligibility from their local council, which proves they have been a resident of eligible scheme areas for three years.