A meeting to promote a campaign to hand over the management of Waiheke’s ferry services to Auckland Transport (AT) took place in Oneroa on 6/8/16. This was billed using the corporate buzzwords of ‘starting a conversation’ but FUG was not invited to address the meeting. We were told that we could ask questions from the invited speakers, but should not make statements. Had we been permitted to do so, this is what we would have said:
1. Moving decisions on pricing, frequency of services and capacity from a successful private company to a failed bureaucracy makes no sense. Fullers has a history of providing a service to Waiheke for more than 30 years. AT has a history of failing to provide those services for which it is directly responsible, for example parking in Matiatia, wharf facilities and managing the timetables and frequency of Island buses.
2. The current government policy is that public transport is to be regulated only when those services are subsidised. Services, like the Waiheke ferries and the airport bus that are not subsidised are exempted from the regulation framework known as the Public Transport Operating Model.
3. If this campaign manages to persuade government to change this policy, the immediate result would be to lock the incumbent (Fullers) in place for a period of 12 years, during which no new entrant would be allowed on the Waiheke route. During those years, Fullers would just need to do the minimum required to contractually hold on to the regulated monopoly overseen by AT.
4. Fullers has said that it “operates in an open market which means new competitors can start operating at any time. This encourages stable fares, continued investment in our services and fleet and the development of services. Fullers believes Waiheke Island will be disadvantaged by regulation of the ferry service as it will discourage future competition, stall investment and impact economic growth”.
5. AT, on the other hand, supports the regulatory framework. If it was to be given custody over the Waiheke ferries, it is safe to assume that quite a few more highly paid jobs for bureaucrats would come into existence.
6. The motivator for this campaign, according to its organisers, was the recent demise of the competing Explore service. The operators of that service cited these contributing factors: (1) Exclusion from SuperGold Card (culprit: National Government, but later and belatedly reversed under pressure from the public and other politicians); (2) Unfair allocation of wharf slots (culprit: AT); Unfair provision of on-Island connecting bus services (culprit: AT). We commented on this topic at the time.
7. Explore wanted to provide its own on-Island bus service to meet its boats, but it was prevented from competing by the regulatory framework managed by AT. Yet, that is precisely the ‘solution’ that the campaign advocates for the ferries.
8. AT declined to attend the meeting to answer questions and has conspicuously not promised any fare reductions or the maintenance of the frequency of sailings. An AT-managed service would be focused on public passenger transport and would not be concerned with tourism operations or freight. It is highly questionable whether it would continue to operate the 25% of all current sailings that carry less than 50 passengers.
The organisers of this campaign could be well intentioned but, perhaps due to poor local knowledge, came up with an answer that would achieve precisely the opposite of what they say they want to achieve.
We urge the people of Waiheke not to sign this petition. We remember what happened last time, when a similarly well-resourced and sleek campaign collected thousands of signatures to prevent marine reserves in the Northern beaches. While many were happy with the outcome, some of those who signed it came to regret having done so.
Our ferry service ain’t broken and it doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ by politicians handing it over to a failed bureaucracy.