Thursday, February 8, 2007

Stranded on an island

It's not often Waiheke Island makes the front page of the largest newspaper in New Zealand two days in a row. The last time was when the foot & mouth hoax hit.
But this weekend it was all fun and games, what with several - newspaper reports say 120, my fellow ferry commuters this morning said there were only about 20 - Fullers ferry ticket holders left stranded on the island side after a good night out at various functions, parties and weddings. The ferry company neglected to provide sufficient capacity to take back all passengers, to whom they happily sold tickets earlier in the day. Worse, Fullers didn't even send over another boat to pick up the castaways, as they were wont to do in earlier (more customer-friendly) times. Nope, they raked in their ticket cash and the ferry management said:

"When most of the people choose to come back on the last sailing it makes it a little difficult."

Well, bugger me, Fullers, I know you like that, but isn't providing passenger services what you are actually in business for?
Now a few people face charges for "breaking into" the wharf building, because they were cold and hungry during their 8 hour wait overnight. Well, duh! Our famous island hospitality has been severely dented by this incident. At least the wharf building should have provided shelter - isn't that what it was built for? Every ticket sold by the ferry company includes a "wharf tax" so technically speaking they didn't break in but gained access to what they had paid for.
On the second day after the incident, Auckland Regional Council leader Mike Lee waded into the issue calling the ferry company excuses "nonsense". Pity the ARC has little power over Fullers because they run the Waiheke service as a pure monopoly without local body subsidies, which means they are un-beholden to any conditions on service and quality delivery, timetabling and fare structures. A pure capitalist text book case of bugger the customer for all he's worth.
Despite all this fun and nonsense, there is really a serious issue involved. Our island is basically dependent on its 1,000 daily commuters and the hordes of tourists who visit irregularly. All have to use Fullers Ferries who happily gouge whatever dollars they can get out of us and you (you can come on another ferry service from a suburban part of town but this is impractical). And if this suddenly becomes uneconomic our whole island economy will be far more affected than any foot and mouth disease can throw at us.

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