Monday, December 17, 2012

Weekend sailings

With the amount of breakdowns and boats out of service you can start to think that diesel technology for Fullers is really rocket science.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

AT Hop card anno zero

Tonight's 10:15 back to the rock left from Pier 1 which has been transformed into sheep pens. Join a pen according to your destination. Follow the coloured lines to your destiny. Of course, Waiheke services from Pier 1 are not indicated. So we were penned in the area without seating. $4,260 a year and not even a place to sit when you wait.
All this because the AT Hop card system starts tomorrow. Tagging on and off before you board and when you disembark on a standard fare ticket. On the Waiheke side there is only one tag post. That'll be fun and games when 500 passengers want to pass through and half get a refusal signal. Expect some irate passengers backing up in the rear.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One day

Tuesday morning, the start of the working week for me and I was already dreading the ferry service now that Superflyte is on survey. Surprisingly, at the 8:00am sailing, there were two vessels available, which made disembarking and embarking a breeze. Both got away well on time and - odd this - arrived in Auckland at 8:35am. Congratulations, Fullers! (Never let it be said that we don't give due where warranted)
The large boats never manage to do this and Fullers now routinely say it's a 40 minute trip instead of a 35 minute one to Waiheke. Why is it like this? Because larger boats usually leave late and never catch up with their timetable (if there was such a thing in Fullers' universe).
So, arrived on time, plenty of buses in Auckland available to get me to work and arrived even early.

Wednesday and Thursday I was expecting the same kind of good service as a $4,260-a-year fare befits. But no such luck. The diesel bill for two vessels must have caused palpitations in Fullers HQ and so we got Starflyte only: small gang plank, endless embarkation time, late departure and late arrival. Back to business as usual.

UPDATE: I heard from a reliable source that the person responsible for the sailings management at Fullers got an earful for putting on two boats. So I wasn't far wrong about the palpitations.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Submission to the draft 2012 Auckland Public Transport Plan

Auckland Transport is inviting submissions to its draft plan for Auckland's public transport for the next 10 years. A PDF of the draft is here. You have until 5 November at 4:00pm to send in your submissions.
And here is mine:

SUBMISSION TO THE AUCKLAND REGIONAL PUBLIC TRANSPORT PLAN 2012

I wish to make this submission to the draft Auckland Regional Public Transport Plan as a resident of Waiheke Island who has had 12 years' experience of daily commuting to the city on Fullers Ferries, using the bus services on the mainland and on the island. As an Auckland ratepayer I contribute to the subsidies doled out to the various current public transport operators under the PTMA/PTOM scheme.
I have been a member of “Fullerswatch”, a public watchdog covering public transport and monopoly issues on the Hauraki Gulf and will use its past research and postings to illustrate issues in this submission. But overall this submission is my personal opinion.

ISSUE 1: WAIHEKE ISLAND'S CURRENT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PLIGHT

Waiheke Island is unique in Auckland's transport system in that it is served by two private monopoly providers, Fullers Ferries and Sea Link. Both companies are the lifelines for the island's well-being and economic development, including a valuable source of rates revenue for Auckland Council.

Waiheke is a nationally important tourist destination for Aucklanders, New Zealanders and many international visitors. Those two companies allow islanders to live locally and commute to town for work and play. Many Aucklanders come to Waiheke for day trips, weekends and summer holidays.
In all, about 1,000 commuters a day are kept off Auckland roads by being able to commute by ferry.

The island bus service, owned and operated by Fullers, is a feeder service for its ferries, but doesn't really function well as a convenient local public transport service for islanders. It gets subsidised by Auckland Transport, while the ferry route is a fully commercial, unsubsidised and "exempted service”.

Fullers Ferries (and Sea Link) isn't really a public transport company. It is a private transport provider mainly aimed at tourists. Its commuter service is incidental, although highly valuable in the off-season for Fullers’ cash flow. But it is not its priority service as vessels get taken out of commuter service when they are hired by private functions and groups.

Fullers’ monopoly on the Hauraki Gulf has been long established after it saw off its last competition late last century. The company has enjoyed this happy position for over a decade, unchallenged by any viable competition or regulatory intervention in fares and service delivery. It also enjoys priority berthing rights at the Downtown Ferry Terminal.

The outlook for the next ten years for the Waiheke ferry service is grim. The Draft Plan envisages a "doubling of passenger numbers" but, as far as I know, there are no plans by Fullers to invest in any new low emissions vessels, despite the "youngest" boat being 16 years old. I would love to know what the Fullers’ reaction is to the draft Plan’s "Ferry Standard for New Ferries used in Urban Passenger Service for modern, low emission ferries, and will ensure that vessels used on future contracts for ferry services conform with this standard". (My guess: a snigger)

The current fleet will still be ageing, suffer even more regular breakdowns, mishaps and fires than we have been experiencing lately. Vessel survey periods will become lengthier, causing smaller replacement service vessels to be continually overcrowded.
The only thing we can be certain of is that fares will rise, no matter what happens to economic conditions, fuel prices, labour and other operating costs.
We can look forward in the coming 10 years to monthly pass fares in the $600+ range, extrapolating from the 75% rise over the past 12 years (from $199 in 2000 to $355 in 2012).

ISSUE 2: "EXEMPTED SERVICES"

Nowhere in the Draft Plan is this concept rationalised. Why are these services exempted? Who decreed this and on which economic or social advantageous grounds? What purpose do they serve being outside the Auckland Transport public transport remit? Why will they remain exempt in the next 10 or 20 years from the integrated system envisaged by the Plan? Why do you think it is rational to keep their fares systems in place when the general desire is to have integrated fares and transport modes?

This exempted services concept needs to be abolished. There is no rational, nor economic reason to maintain balkanised public transport services across Auckland with separate and mutually incompatible fare structures.
London's Oyster and Hong Kong's Octopus cards, on which Hop mirrors itself, offer passengers travel across all transport modes: underground, buses, trams and ferries. There are no sane reasons why the Auckland Hop card should not offer this same interoperability across transport modes in Auckland: buses, trains, all ferries and Airport bus. Not having this integration has a baffling effect on the tourist arriving at Auckland Airport, who is faced with an Airport bus to downtown and to Manukau. One of which he can buy a Hop card for, enabling him to use it later during his visit on other buses and trains. If he wants to visit Waiheke, there is another separate fare to be paid to Fullers - and if he's lucky, his Hop card may be acceptable on the Waiheke Bus (since that is an AT subsidised service and thus not "exempt").

In this RPT Plan there is no mention of how the damning comments in international guides such as Lonely Planet on the poor state of PT in Auckland is going to be tackled. Certainly not by maintaining the exempt service status of the first two transport modes an international tourist comes face to face with after a long haul flight. Crucially, this same problem, of course, confronts Waiheke Islanders, Aucklanders and New Zealanders as well. Why set up a whole infrastructure of integrated fares and transport modes while at the same time exempting pretty important parts of it? Why keep on this confusion and inconvenience for seasoned and one-off travellers alike?

Exempt status means the companies can set fares, timetables and conditions at will.

This is unacceptable.

Sailings get delayed, cancelled or have to return to base due to technical failure on a regular basis with few apologies and little compensation for missed connections, flights or appointments. There are no commercial consequences for the company so it has no incentive to improve its service delivery.

Fullers has basically proven itself to be incapable of providing a quality service in terms of punctuality, reliability and passenger comfort, at a reasonable fare for the past 12 years, ever since the competition on the run was seen off in the last century. It acts as a typical monopolistic private provider only interested in its bottom line and adopting a cost-plus-plus mentality in its fare policy. Fare box recovery is already 102% on the Waiheke route: we pay a full unsubsidised fare plus wharf tax (i.e. fares could be halved and still meet your 50% target?).

This has resulted in Fullers commuter fares consistently being the highest in the world among commuter ferry operators, and fares over the past 12 years have risen higher than the CPI inflation figure - which includes business cost price factors like fuel and labour - would justify.
You only need to compare this price evolution to the commercial domestic aviation market: 10 years ago a flight from Auckland to Wellington cost the equivalent of a Fullers Waiheke monthly pass. Now airfares are the equivalent of one return ticket. There is never any chance of $7 Air New Zealand promotional fares - let alone current 1c JetStar offers on the Hauraki Gulf.

Auckland Transport should monitor service delivery for operators outside contracted services as well as all other PT providers.

ISSUE 3: PTOM

Fullers (and Sea Link) must be brought under this regime with the abolition of the "exempted service" category as soon as possible and certainly by the time all public transport in Auckland is regulated, planned and implemented under one umbrella, zone- and fares-wise.

I have no illusions that the ferry companies will fight – as a Flemish proverb has it “like the Devil in a bath tub of Holy Water” – this inclusion from ever happening. But that doesn’t mean you, as the public transport regulator, cannot do that. The Plan PTOM definition states: "Grow confidence that services are priced efficiently and that competitors have access to public transport markets".

This should mean that Auckland Transport should ensure a level playing field on Hauraki Gulf and adopt as its main task being a PT regulator and monopoly buster – something which has been sorely lacking in the past.

ISSUE 4: SUPER GOLDCARD

An overhaul of the Super Gold Card system is needed, especially by linking card IDs with public transport tickets issued to prevent opportunities for fraud by operating companies and to protect the taxpayer.
The Super Gold Card must be replaced by Hop card allowing discounts/free travel in predetermined time periods. This would allow for proper surveillance and audit.

ISSUE 5: FARES AND ZONES INTEGRATION TO INCLUDE WAIHEKE ISLAND

The Waiheke ferry service should be included on equitable basis in any fare structures and zone geography that are proposed. Octopus card in Hong Kong includes the Airport service, underground, bus, trams and ferries. Hop card should mirror this integration. Fullers Waiheke must be brought into this system with stored value discounts, monthly passes and daily caps.
All ferry services need to be integrated in the zone system, not point to point (Point 4.3.c. (p36)).
Regards Figure 6-1 (fare zone boundaries): Waiheke should be 4 zones from the CBD, like Manurewa and Papakura are, as they are a similar distance away.
Pine Harbour ferry is same distance too from CBD and there is no rational reason not to have a similar fare structure for Waiheke ferry (in comparison, currently a 40-ride ticket is $355 on Pine Harbour and $469 on Fullers)

ISSUE 6: INFRASTRUCTURE

Abolish the wharf tax.
Waihekeans in effect pay, due to their sheer numbers using the wharves, for the investment and maintenance of all other wharves in the region, but we don't get to own them despite our investment. Bus users don't pay a separate "bus shelter tax", nor train passengers a "station tax", thus ferry passengers should not be charged a wharf tax.

END NOTES

Waiheke Islanders are a feisty and hardy lot, and a politically active and aware community. We care about our island, its future and its environment, social conditions and well-being for our diverse inhabitants, most of whom are not well-off.
While we are not always happy campers within the Auckland City set up, we have a legitimate grievance against what we perceive as inaction and neglect of our transport links within AT’s regulatory framework. We want this remedied within the Draft Plan. The ability to travel by islanders and visitors alike must be seamless and on an equal footing with other areas in the city.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October surprise

Fullers Waiheke monthly passes will be $325 for November and December. As the woman in the ticket booth said "a Christmas present". They did this last year too for December, to boost monthlies' sales in a holiday period. The prices rises of other fare products will go ahead as announced.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

If only...

Can we look forward to newspaper ads from Fullers announcing something like this? Of course not, there will be icebergs in the Waitemata sooner than a price war on the Gulf. News report:
Commuters between Auckland and the capital have been given an early Christmas present, a price war in airfares between the two cities. Air New Zealand has undercut Jetstar airfares and slashed tickets between Auckland and Wellington to $7 each way on its late night flights, in the week leading up to Christmas. Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe said the carrier was making domestic travel more affordable than ever before and the low fares should be a boost to retailers in each city.
When can we have Virgin Ferries? Jetstar Ferries?

Friday, October 12, 2012

A fare price increase notification by txt

Fullers trying to show they are up with the technological times (no, no, not free wi-fi on board, that would be too radical) and texted us their news the Waiheke run fares will go up just in time for the long Labour weekend. Monthly passes by $5 and town return fares by 50c. Not a huge amount but judging from reactions I've had it's been resented by passengers none the less, who are unimpressed by the usual PR spin by the company (fuel prices, blah-blah, labour costs, blah-blah, expensive engine repairs for Superflyte and Quickcat).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Auckland Transport plans to make changes to Supergold card

The Herald on the Supergold card drain on the freebie transport budget:
If the cost is what’s worrying NZTA, then from the start, everyone knows the anomaly that is the Waiheke Ferry has been the biggest drain on the concession budget.
The first year’s figures (2008-2009) revealed that $2 million of the national $18 million had gone to Fullers Ferries to carry canny Auckland oldies for a day in the sun and vineyards. Whether cutting the evening peak hour concession would save much is questionable.
The Supergold card subsidy needs abolishing and the saved transport dollars used for making public transport travel more affordable for all. It makes no economic sense to provide a freebie to one sector of society while it makes travel for the rest unaffordable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When the sheep don't disembark fast enough

Tueday 6:15pm: Starflyte docking at Pier 2B left again before all passengers had disembarked. It caused an almighty ruckus, crashing gang planks and screaming passengers but the skipper went merrily on his way to his dinner break. Which means the boat is out of service too, with an even smaller vessel now having to do the 8:00am ex-Waiheke sailing. Is Fullers' staff pissed off, or just instructed not to give a damn about passengers any more?
Newspaper report here

UPDATE: If you were an eyewitness of this incident, the family involved wants to hear from you: please email saunders.csk@xtra.co.nz or via mail 34 Frank Street, Oneroa.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How sheep feel on a shipment to Dubai

It's been another Winter of breakdowns, overloaded small vessels and passenger grumbling all round. So far, so groundhog day for Fullers: the annual survey of the boats is usually accompanied by breakdowns in the other parts of the fleet due to over-work. Jet Raider can't handle peak hour traffic due to its restricted loading speeds and the small riverboats can't always make it due to rough seas.
Every year the same old tired story, and the same old tired excuses.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Join the Waiheke Navy!

A piece of excellent news this week was buried in the back pages of the local media: from September a new ferry service between Auckland and Waiheke Island will start up.
Waiheke Navy is run by a tourist company, Around Waiheke Tours.
Initially the members-only service will be quite limited (one return sailing a week on Saturdays, but the website hints at more), cost $10 one-way and less when buying a multi-ride ticket. No supergold card will be accepted.
At first sight, the appeal and market is quite limited (it has to be as they can only accommodate 49 people per sailing) but good for, say, doing your weekly shop in town to beat the high prices at the Waiheke supermarket. For commuters and the elderly, Fullers will remain, for the time being, the only game in town.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fullerswatch in the local board by-election campaign

Paul Walden published an e-zine for his bid to become the new member of the Waiheke Local Board, replacing Denise Roche.
It has a funny cartoon on Fullers boat breakdowns and an article on issues facing Waiheke ferry passengers and commuters.
If he gets elected he said he would work for the travelling public.
The magazine is on line [PDF] here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hop and integrated ticketing

Some interesting updates on the state of integrated ticketing in Auckland on the ever-interesting Auckland Transport blog. I've been partaking in the commentary on behalf of ferry users, which are in danger of being left out of any integrated structure.
We pay rates as the rest of Auckland so we deserve to be included in a system where you pay for the distance you travel, regardless of the mode of public transport you use - just like the Super Gold Card holders currently enjoy. If that means $5 Waiheke trip fares, so be it. We have been paying monopoly fares for far too long already.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Winter" breakdowns are happening earlier and earlier

"Unplanned maintenance". That dreaded text message which means high capacity boats are taken out of service for any length of time. This time it was Superflyte which, reportedly, struck a 'submerged object' that knocked out one of the rotor blades. So off to Whangarei for repairs and off the run until at least the weekend. And we collectively hold our breath.


You have also noticed the monthly pass price went back up to $350 in February. I innocently asked the counter attendant whether that would mean more boats (or even boats that run and arrive on time), but she laughed hollowly at me. Welcome back to the cost-plus-plus world of Fullers.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Request for information

We had a request to call for information from passengers who happened to have travelled on the 4:00pm boat from town on 23 December and got on the bus at Matiatia. If you had any concerns about the bus passenger loading, could you contact this email address or call 0800 566 366, that would be most appreciated.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Captain Pugwash at the helm

Starflyte on the Friday 6:30pm forgot to pull into Devonport. He realised it mid-channel so a sharp 180-degree turn followed. His cheery announcement at the start of the journey that we'd be on Waiheke in 35mins was a little optimistic. It took an hour.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The 180-min journey to work

The Waiheke Marketplace newspaper ran a piece with commuter experiences on the ferries, sadly it's not online. A slightly different article, but based on the same information appeared in the East & Bays Courier.
It inspired me to fire off the following letter to the editor:

Dear George,

The fluffy piece of salad day journalism by Nicola Murphy and Lyndal Jefferies "Work's a 180-min journey" requires necessary balance. For Waiheke commuters, the journey to and back from work in the city involves one of the most expensive commuter fares in the world. At $4,000 a year, what do you actually get? Boats that rarely arrive at the advertised time causing missed bus and train connections. Cancellations and breakdowns occuring like clockwork, often mid-channel and which require a return and transfer (but, mercifully, a $10 compensation voucher). Those breakdowns are euphemistically referred to by Fullers as "unplanned maintenance" and they come on top of annual boat surveys that seem to take longer every year.
You may think that the Waiheke commute is a damn sight better thing than sitting in a gridlocked motorway every morning, but your 'reverse commuter', Mr Schippers, enjoying the "easy parking" in Devonport, should have mentioned he can actually park for free, a privilege not enjoyed by islanders, who are unique in the Auckland public transport system of not having a free park & ride facility that North Shore busway commuters take for granted. Perhaps this is because the Waiheke Fullers route is actually not a public transport service but communal private transport delivered by a monopoly company.
It's my impression that Fullers actually doesn't like commuters. It prefers the $35 return tourist fares because revenue per passenger is so much juicier. Tourists don't turn up in Winter so boats can be taken out of service at random, and bugger the resulting cramped conditions for the captive daily customer. In Summer, boat charters and private cruises for corporate Christmas parties yield so much more profit it pays to cram commuters onto the smaller vessels, sardine-style.
The vaunted aspects of the boat commute - the community-style interactions between passengers and the opportunity to actually make the time work for you - are a little overdone. There is, for example, no free wi-fi on board, something that is increasingly common on public transport overseas and even on inner city Auckland buses, trains and even Sea Link to Half Moon Bay.
As long as Waiheke is not integrated into the Auckland public transport system (we haven't heard whether Hop will come to Fullers, let alone at $14.50 for a day pass valid for travel across Greater Auckland, a fare touted for travelling a similar distance on other Auckland public transport modes) Fullers - and Sea Link - will continue to abuse their monopoly position and slowly strangle life on Waiheke for all but the well-heeled. The island's gentrification and unaffordability will continue and the only beneficiary is Fullers' bottom line.

UPDATE: The letter (slightly edited) was published, good on ya, George.
UPDATE: The original article has been retracted by the Marketplace after one of the interviewees complained he wasn't actually interviewed for the piece.