Monday, May 2, 2016

Back at square one

The golden weather after 18 months of improvements in services on the Waiheke ferry has come to an abrupt end when Explore Ferries decided to pull the plug on its sailings from 8 May. It cited lack of patronage which would not enable them to get through the Winter.
But this simple reason masks a multitude of systemic failures in the Auckland ferry scene, and if they are not remedied we will unlikely see any competing service ever again. This might suit Fullers' shareholders and cashflow very much, but it is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for passengers who can now only look forward to the resumption of the old service attitudes and upped fares. The public transport regulator, AT, is happy to look the other way because it cannot afford to offend Fullers, lest they would need to fund a ferry service themselves and that is the last thing they want to happen.

This blatant favoritism of AT for the incumbent was obvious from the start:
- Explore was forced to dock at Pier 3 - while Pier 2 and Pier 4 were upgraded in no time (for the exclusive use of Fullers).
- At all times AT inspectors were present at Pier 3 to see whether Explore staff made any mistakes. Any passenger reaction and complaints about the conditions Explore had to work under was immediately used as a stick to beat Explore with.
- The ticket booth was miles away from Pier 3 and at Matiatia better hidden than the toilets.
- The exempt service let Fullers double its sailings at short notice and even when they could not meet their own timetable, nothing was or could be done to hold them accountable.
- The extension of the supergold card loot was delayed for over a year, and when Explore offered passage for free in the meantime, nothing was done to make payment retroactive, i.e. make Fullers hand over part of the cash as they did not transport all pensioners as claimed between Auckland and Waiheke.
- Preventing Explore from running a bus service on Waiheke, or even specifying in the Waiheke Bus contract all buses on Waiheke should meet all services, resulting in a useless service to and from Explore sailings (Fullers causing chaos for its own bus services after introducing a half hour service was left unexamined or cared about).

It is now up to politicians at all levels to remedy this market failure and tackle this private monopoly head on with some urgency. The Local Board needs to lobby all players involved to ensure a satisfying outcome for islanders and visitors alike. City Councillors need to seriously look at the dysfunction, incompetence and obvious favouritism at Auckland Transport. National politicians need to abolish the 'exempt status' of Fullers and bring it under the umbrella of the PTOM system, so services can be regulated, in case it remains a monopoly, or tendered for, in case there are other companies interested in providing the service.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Auckland Transport consultation on RPTP

Auckland Transport is consulting on aspects of its Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). This is our submission:


There is a glaring and unjustifiable omission from the proposed zones: Waiheke Island. We are Auckland City ratepayers and we have every right to be included in the zone system, especially since one of the public transport companies on Waiheke is subsidised by AT and one company accepts (single fare) Hop cards. Waiheke Islanders should have the ability to travel from Waiheke to the City centre on one fare, just as is ­proposed for travellers on the mainland going the same distance. Travellers using their Super Gold Card already enjoy this integrated privilege and it should be extended to all island travellers. The fare structure should be the same as for Manukau South to the CBD, i.e. Zone 4. Using a zonal Hop card on any travel mode (bus/train/ferry) should not make a difference to the fare for the distance travelled.
Regards the proposed zone fares, Zone 4 indicates a $6-$6.50 range (compared to a $9.50-$10 cash range). This seems a fair ferry fare. Currently both ferry companies charge a ‘tourist’ premium on their single fares of around $20. For Waiheke regular travellers and commuters, who have access to multi-ride and season tickets, the fares are already at the Zone 4 cash range.
In the ‘proposed fare products’ you need to delete the reference to ‘inner-harbour ferries’ and include Waiheke ferries too. The Hop single day and monthly passes (plus any others planned) should be available on Waiheke too, as it is/will be in any Zone 4 area.
In summary:
-          Waiheke Island to be included in the proposed zone system;
-          Island-serving ferry and bus companies integrated in the city-wide fares system on an equitable (distance) basis;
-          Seasonal Hop passes covering all transport modes city-wide, including all ferries.
I understand that AT has had historical trouble (as did its predecessor, the ARTA) in reigning in Fullers’ monopoly and has still not succeeded in integrating that company properly by abolishing the PTOM exemption. This not the public transport regulator’s only failure. The Fullers monopoly now seems broken on the ferry service (no thanks to AT) by the Explore Group. But Explore is not even mentioned in any plans to be included in the Hop fare system (let alone getting a proper working berth on Pier 2). Why these oversights and shortcomings? And when are they going to be remedied?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Competition, but not as we know it

Two months of full competition on the Waiheke run and it has certainly not been without hitches and newbie pains.
The Explore Centurion boat is performing below par due to diesel engine problems, taking 40-45 minutes to get there, causing the Explore evening rush hour timetable to be amended. The 5:15 ex-AKL now sails at 5:35 and if you counted on getting the Fullers bus meeting the 5:30pm Fullers service at Matiatia, you are out of luck as you can see the buses pull up the hill to Oneroa before you have docked. I guess Fullers can't believe its luck sticking it to all you apostates leaving the Fullers Death Star.
Hopefully, the new Explore boat will be in service soon so Centurion can be retired to back-up service.
Also, the precipitous drop in diesel prices has yet to show up in a drop in fares - watch the reverse not be the case in the future, of course. Passengers need a fares war sooner rather than later. We've been waiting for 14 years now. Bring it on.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fullers, Explore, Sea Link finally competing for Waiheke

For years we have campaigned for an end to the Fullers Ferries monopoly on the Waiheke Island service. And all of a sudden, two competitors have turned up in the same weekend. Welcome Explore, which will provide a 7 day service (although not very late at night, and also no island bus service), and Sea Link, which only runs at weekends for tourists. All also offer very different fare structures and deals, check their websites, which makes it a little byzantine to figure out what is best for you and your travel needs. A proper fare integration in the form of monthly flat rate Hop Passes for all buses, trains and ferries, is still a long way off. But it's a start and prices have started falling already, as they should in a proper market. Here is the full current timetable for sailings by all operators. Matiatia will be busier than usual - and that's even without the proposed marina clutter.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The disintegration of the Waiheke Fullers monthly pass - AT's response

This is what I got in response from Auckland Transport, 18 days after sending the initial email:
Subject: Fullers Monthly Passes
Customer Reference Number: CAS-145438

Thank you for your feedback regarding the pending changes to Fullers Monthly Pass services.  At the outset I apologise for the delay in responding to your queries.

The Waiheke Ferry Monthly Pass was implemented some years ago when Fullers and NZ Bus were owned by the same parent company, which is no longer the case.  With the transition to AT HOP, Fullers and NZ Bus along with other operators have taken the opportunity to review the commercial arrangements they have in place with each other for some products that allows travel with different operators on one ticket, as they each transition to the new system. 

While the new system could accommodate such passes, in this case NZ Bus and Fullers have decided not to continue with the city based bus travel component on the Waiheke Ferry Monthly Pass.  Auckland Transport is aware this affects a small number of people who have been utilising the features of this Pass and our contact centre staff will be happy to assist commuters in working out the most cost effective travel option.  However, I can confirm the Waiheke Ferry Monthly Pass will continue to offer unlimited travel on all Waiheke Bus Company services.   

Fares for the Waiheke Island ferry service are set by Fullers, Auckland Transport is not responsible for these fares as this is not a subsidised service.

At this stage bus and train travel in the city may require ferry commuters to have two payment methods for travel – an AT HOP card and a Fullers Galaxy ticket.  Auckland Transport acknowledges these changes may bring increased costs for some commuters however we are currently working with Fullers to introduce more products to the AT HOP card which incorporate Ferry travel including daily and monthly passes.  Customer can sign up to receive the latest updates regarding AT HOP on our website here: http://at.uq.co.nz/signup/
I trust this information is of use to you.  Thank you again for taking to the time to provide your feedback to Auckland Transport
In summary: suck it up, Waiheke rich bitches. If you can't afford to live/commute, move back to the mainland. Fullers again gets off scot-free, with revenue intact and no commercial consequences for pissing all over its customers. Life in the capitalist monopoly world with a compliant regulator is sweet.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The disintegration of the Waiheke Fullers monthly pass

I have sent this to Auckland Transport feedback site. I recommend you do a similar thing.

From 1 January, Waiheke Fullers monthly pass holders will no longer be able to use bus services from NZ Bus on the mainland. This is an AT decision. Despite this cut in service access, Fullers has decided to keep the price of the monthly pass the same.
What needs to happen:
Either - 1. Fullers drops the monthly pass price by between $80 and $140 (the cost of a monthly Hop pass for buses on the mainland)
Or - 2. Fullers or AT gives monthly Hop passes to monthly Fullers pass holders until such time this cock up is sorted by a the issue of a monthly Hop pass valid for all travel including Waiheke.
I don't see why passengers should pay for the dysfunctionality between Fullers and AT.

UPDATE 16DEC: I got an acknowledgement from AT that they have received my query and have forwarded it to the relevant 'business unit' (this is two weeks after sending it off to them). They will try to respond within 10 working days. By then we will have lost our integrated monthly pass. Good work Fullers/AT.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fullers ups all fares at the start of the tourism season

From 1 November all Fullers fares on the Waiheke ferry run will increase by just under 2% (there is one small mercy: dogs will still be carried free). The complete list of changes is in this PDF file.
Since you know us as complete cynics, we suspect they are pre-financing the new ferry due next year (despite strenuous promises by a former Local Board member it will arrive this November) by charging passengers extra that will cover the construction and commission cost. But we also hear the usual protestations of the annual litany of increased labour and fuel costs and increased wharf berthing charges (presumably not covered by the wharf tax already in place). Our hearts bleed every year too.

Meanwhile, still no fare integration with the rest of Auckland public transport (especially trains) and we have seen the introduction of a separate Galaxy card, with its attendant teething problems (one morning my card refused to be read and the Fullers employee looked scoldingly at me as if that was my problem). Why we don't have Auckland-wide, all mode Hop Cards is still a mystery.

There was also the little survey that was doing the rounds on a possible later Sunday night sailing from town at 10:30pm and from Waiheke at 11:30pm. This is long overdue but Fullers is owned by a Scottish Presbyterian who would prefer us to be in bed by sundown to be well-rested for the looming working week. Weekend tourists surely wouldn't mind a later sailing back to mediocrity.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fullers ticketing to change

I only found out this morning thanks to a casual remark by a fellow commuter but, from next month, the monthly pass will be split into two options: a regular monthly pass you purchase before the 1st and valid for a calendar month on ferries and buses, and a 30-day pass you can buy at any time but only covers ferry travel.
What you need to do is re-register with Fullers (have your picture taken to be issued a new pass) soon as the queues will be massive to register.
It's all to do with swiping technology that will be brought in.
No word on whether the passes will be swipable on the Hop machines on Auckland buses.
Nor on whether there will be any pricing differences between the two options. Will it be another opportunity for Fullers to up the monthly pass price with the fob off that you can always get a cheaper 30 day one?
Also, it's unclear whether you an buy a monthly pass after the 1st of the month.
As things usually go with the introduction of new technology, expect queues and delays for registering and swiping. A relief is that you can actually buy your pass online in the future.
The PR about this major change and upheaval has been woeful so far. See if you can get through the prose on their website.
Now how about that onboard wi-fi they've been promising us for a year now?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Regional Public Tansport Plan recommendations

Auckland Transport has released all the submissions made by the public, local boards, corporations, and others on its Draft Public Transport Plan. Also the Panel Hearings Report.
Reading through the submissions, only a few refer to Waiheke Island, most of them in line with my own submission regards Waiheke's inclusion into the proposed far zone structure and the integration of Fullers into the system. Some older residents are screaming blue murder about a possible curtailment of their Supergold card freebie after 3:00pm.
In corporate submissions, Fullers, of course, makes the point that fares need to be sky high as they 'subsidise' commuter and year round island trips. No proof of this was provided (See the Campbell Live TV interview debacle on the probe into Fullers fare policy and supergold card subsidy loot).
The Waiheke Local Board submission is brief, but makes good points on island bus services and the wharf tax. It is, however, silent on how to tackle Fullers' privileged position and how to integrate its services with the rest of Auckland public transport.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Summer's atrocious service now to be charged to Waihekeans

After an atrocious Summer for passenger experience on Fullers ferries, with several vessels more than occasionally out of service, Quickcat laid up for a Summer rest and multiple smaller boats overloaded to cope with the crowds wanting to share the buzz on the island, the cash flow must have been a bumper one, judging by the TV performance of the company's CEO on Campbell Live the other day, swatting away any criticism of being an overpriced monopoly sucking on the supergold card subsidy teat. Now that Quickcat is back in service, with an expensive engine repaired, the costs have to be recouped lest the Souter kids go hungry, the monthly pass fare in April is set to rise by 10% to $355 $350, according to the Fullers fares website.