With fuel prices locally at almost year lows due to a combination of lower world market prices and a higher New Zealand dollar against the greenback, private car users have been reaping the benefit of lower prices at the pump. $1.47 a litre is well down from $1.76 only weeks or months ago. So everybody has been climbing into their cars again, since public transport companies have been steadfastly refusing to lower their fares, as you would expect since they earlier raised prices due to fuel cost increases.
I wrote to that effect to the local island newspaper, which published my letter as the leading entry on the letters page - thank you very much, Simon - and sent a copy to Fullers Ferries for a reaction:
Now that the diesel price is back where it was 12 months ago, can we expect a commensurate drop in the ferry fare prices in time for October (hiked because of fuel price increases, according to your literature at the time)?
It took Acting Operations Manager Michael Fitchett six days to reply. And unfortunately I can't tell you what he wrote back, due to Fullers communications policy "to freely respond to questions in a confidential manner with customers".
That's a pity. But in short the reply was that the diesel price reduction has not been that dramatic it would impact on fares and they didn't know where it would go in the future (and hence, I presume, it's better to hedge your bets on your side of the balance sheet than on the side of your customer).
So in all, public transport prices only go up. They will only go down if faced with competition and that is, helas, not on the horizon for our island service.
The public transport gods have been particularly cruel this last week. Five of Fullers vessels are currently out of service for various reasons, including annual service and general engine failures, resulting in chaotic timetabling, lateness in arrivals and departures, and plenty of irate passengers who were denied boarding on several occasions as far too small vessels have to do commuter runs they were not designed for.
Even the "Ferry Users Group", memorably described by one of my fellow commuters as a floating Rotary Club, not normally known for militant or even slightly disrespectful criticism, pointed to a less than satisfactory maintenance regime at Fullers. Abject abuse of monopoly while running your resource into the ground is what I would call it.
I can't feel sorry for Fullers since I'm still expected to pay a first class fare for a cattle class service - and guess who will be paying for all the repairs and necessary future fleet upgrades?
UPDATE 26 October: The Waiheke Gulf News reports Fullers will give us a $50 discount on November's monthly passes (normal price $300) for putting up with the inconvenience. Pity that can't be made permanent since the diesel price has come down by that amount.