Friday, November 16, 2007

And while we're at it...

Again this week a major Fullers ferry has been taken out of service for some unknown reason: passengers don't need to know why or how long, we just need to keep stumping up, keep our mouths shut and be grateful there is a ferry service at all, what with Infratil being kept busy with chasing Auckland Airport directorships.

So we now have endure rides on that crowd favourite, the Vomit Comet, sorry, Jet Raider. Not that it would matter much if only they could get rid of the diesel fumes above and the toilet stink below the waterline. But the constant lateness of the damn thing is what riles most passengers.
Fullers has been posting notices around patronizingly warning passengers that their ferry won't wait for them at departure. Unfortunately there is no same guarantee offered it will ever arrive on scheduled time and the Jet Raider is always 15 to 25 minutes late.
In the UK, public transport operators get fined or their licence withdrawn if their services are habitually late. Why can't we have a similar system here? It would certainly them where it hurts and make haste of regular maintenance and upgrades.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Air passengers: 1 - ferry passengers: nil

News from a public transport system that works:

"Qantas intended spending $10 million on introducing its Cityflyer brand, which now operates between the six main Australian centres, to New Zealand. That would include:
* A $3 million upgrade of domestic club lounges in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
* Refurbishing aircraft cabins.
* Self-serve check-in kiosks at airports.
* An enhanced free food service and morning newspapers.
* A free bar service from 4pm on weekdays."

While I read that, sitting on a wind and rain-swept Auckland ferry Pier 2, I can't but marvel with envy at how the free airline market caters for its passengers. Imagine what ferry travel would be like if there were Qantas ferries competing with Infratil for customers. We'd be pampered with Koru club style waiting facilities instead of wino hangouts; have refurbished ferries that don't stink of diesel and freshly pumped out sewage; ferries that might actually arrive on time instead of patronizing warnings that ferries will not wait for you; and all for prices that can go down instead of always up.
(I'm only using the ferry as an analogy, the same is of course true for bus and train services)

Come on, Qantas/Pacific Blue/AirNZ, branch out into our transport mode and give a heave to bad and expensive service.

Why is the ARTA negligent in its job for it guarantees the present monopoly gouging to continue? And how do we get rid of it?

My point is that the lack of competition is the direct cause of bad and overpriced service on ferries. 1,000 commuting passengers a day is a large market - how many plane routes or bus lines carry that many people twice a day in New Zealand?
Virgin runs planes and trains in the UK, so multiple transport modes can be run by one company (Infratil runs buses, ferries and airports!) - hell, they could even offer "frequent flyer points" applicable to all their transport modes.

Booking seats on ferries in advance would be quite handy and those advance sales are attractive for traveler and company alike, as it does for planes and the Naked Bus Co. It would force Fullers to actually deliver a reliable and attractive service instead of the guaranteed monopoly they enjoy now.
Imagine if you could book your daily commute bus seat: no more standing room only and the driver knows where to pick up his booked passengers. Guaranteed filled seats and regular income - perhaps even without a public subsidy. Everybody would be better off with some lateral thinking and free market innovation.

There would be nothing wrong with cut price peak services and extra charges for extra services like a Koru Club or free drinks. It would offer passengers choice. Now the only choice we have is a stinking Jet Raider at first class fares.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Stranded on an island again?

Another party weekend is upon us on Waiheke and Fullers have been putting up posters on the ferry "advising" party goers to return on the 8.15pm and 10.15pm ferries. The only proper response is a Tui ad.
But it shouldn't be rocket science, really. Why not run an all-night boat, say, every two hours, so party goers can relax and enjoy themselves in the knowledge they can get back home at some stage? Basic good customer service and what a ferry service should be there for, I would have thought.
Let's hope the Red Cross is ready this time with blankets and hot drinks for the stranded.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stranded on an island (update 2)

The plot thickens (via TV3):

"It has emerged the skipper of a ferry that last weekend left over a hundred passengers stranded on Waiheke Island, had refused to return for them.
The passengers couldn't all fit onto Fullers' last sailing.
The company says it's looking into why the skipper ignored a manager's request for him to make another trip.
And he says Fullers is making sure visitors to the Island's annual food and wine festival today are well catered for."

The gossip I heard on the ferry home last night was that some of the crew on the last vessel that night refused to return to Waiheke to pick up the rest of the passengers because in a previous instance last year they were not paid by Fullers for the overtime they put in then. So, if true (if Fullers management reads this, please feel free to clarify the issue), the complete fault lies with Fullers management, and not with the crew in question. Nobody is obliged to work for free, surely.
And now instead of fixing Fullers problems, such as running all night boats during summer weekends when a lot is happening on Waiheke, Fullers' owner Infratil resorts to a more effective weapon against its customers: blackmail:

"Listed infrastructure investor Infratil could exit its $250 million bus and ferry services if radical transport proposals are pursued by local government.
Infratil director Tim Brown said the proposals would ultimately see the country's bus and ferry networks run by bureaucrats who would collect the fares and pay private operators a fee to provide the service.
They would also have the right to buy the business if it did not meet local authority targets."

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.

Stranded on an island (update 1)

The Herald ran an editorial on the issue:

"This is not the normal culture of a business that runs a public service; it is not even the culture of state-owned service providers these days. Fullers' behaviour last Saturday night was a throw-back to the days when so-called public servants would close the counter on a queue of customers if the clock struck closing time."

Indeed, and even writing letters to Fullers results in patronising and nonsensical replies, but which you're not allowed to make public!