The End of Explore

Explore announced that it is terminating its commuter service between Auckland and Waiheke. People in Waiheke are sorry to lose the benefits of competition. However, the other side of competition is that, while consumers generally win, some producers sometimes lose.

We met with Councillor Mike Lee to discuss the perception in the community that the Explore service was hobbled by AT. The organization refutes that charge. We also discussed our ongoing frustration with AT’s lack of action on the Matiatia parking crisis. We followed up our meeting with this letter:

There is a widespread view in the community of Waiheke that the demise of the Explore service was a direct result of a failure by AT to provide a level playing field. We note that Explore, while having expressed some concerns about AT’s apparent inertia in some areas, stated that the main reason for the failure of their service was insufficient commuter patronage to ensure commercial viability.

Thank you for providing a copy of the detailed explanations from AT. While we accept that there was no impropriety or a deliberate attempt to tilt the playing field, it is obvious that AT was constrained by legacy contractual arrangements and wharf design and maintenance issues. It is clear to us that a degree of institutional inertia was also a significant contributing factor . We believe that it is important to review, de novo, AT’s role in managing the wharves – built and maintained with ferry users taxes – to ensure that any future entrants do not face the same frustrations that are said to have contributed to Explore’s demise.

In our view, the over-riding principle is that pier slots should be allocated competitively and transparently. Any earlier contracts that prevent that from happening should be renegotiated as a matter of priority. Any future new entrants should not be merely tolerated and made to jump through hoops; they should be actively supported as a matter of public policy. The Ferry Users Group is available to assist with the development of such a framework, should Council agree to adopt it.

The second issue that we raised with you is the ongoing failure of AT to provide adequate parking facilities in Matiatia.

The promises made by AT in April 2015 to implement some minor changes to create 11 new car parking spaces have not resulted in any changes, one year later. That is why Explore’s claims of inertia on AT’s part resonate with us. In a letter received in August 2015, an AT senior manager said: “AT has no plans to significantly increase parking supply at Matiatia”. It could not be more clear. The current parking situation in Matiatia is in crisis and will continue to deteriorate, until Council as a whole assumes responsibility for providing for the needs of the Waiheke community

The Ferry Users of Waiheke are not asking for free parking. We just want Council to use its ample land holdings in the Matiatia area to provide a well-designed and operated parking service with adequate capacity. If AT is unwilling to provide such a service, we urge Council to consider the option of leasing the public land to private sector parking service operators.

We need a realistic increase in parking capacity, be it in the form of suitably serviced and located park-and-ride facilities, improved facilities for free parking (as in Owhanake)  and increased capacity in the other paid Matiatia car parks – or a combination of these solutions. The Ferry Users Group continues to be available to work with AT and/or other Council organisations towards the earliest possible achievement of these improvements.

We thanked Councillor Lee for listening to us. We will keep our members informed of developments.

* * *

UPDATE, 9/5/2016

Councillor Lee has since endorsed and passed on our concerns to the leadership of AT and we have thanked him for that action.



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