Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dark passage

Quickcat 4:00pm sailing from City - lights went off just before berthing at Matiatia came back on after 2 – 3 minutes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Showers expected

5:30pm boat from Auckland on Quickcat – airconditioning broke down spraying passengers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The hellish morning commute

Quickcat lost steering on its way from town. Commuters from failed 7:20am sailing ex Matiatia joined the 8:00am sailing on Superflyte. Probably overloaded. Upon arrival at Pier 2 Auckland electricals for pneumatic gangway failed – heavy rain - finally worked at 8:45am, passengers late to catch connections.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quick Quick Slow

Quickcat broke down - 4:00 pm boat from city berthed at Matiatia @ 5:10 pm – lost one engine tried to restore it by performing numerous circling manoeuvres around Matiatia. Finally succeeded.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's that smell?

5:00 pm boat from city - Fullers dump effluent - stinking sewage smell poorly masked by a strong chemical.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

See how easy it is!

If only one has the political will a lot is obviously possible. Since yesterday a policy of free public transport after 9am, on weekends and public holidays is being rolled out in New Zealand.
A fully integrated public transport and ticketing system has been created overnight, without much murmuring (except by the transport companies left out by the scheme, such as the car ferries to Waiheke) or problems with participating companies. There's one obvious flaw though: it's only for pensioners.
Everybody else who has to pay the fares still faces a balkanised, un-integrated and costly system. I don't need to remind you that on that very day of free fares for oldies we got finally whacked in our pocket with the 14% season ticket increase: a cruel irony which I messaged to the press secretary of Judith Tizard, who had triumphantly released the policy and had mailed it to me. He was on the phone to me immediately so I could give him another earful.
The massive government subsidy in this pensioner travel scheme to transport companies will be a boon for them: overseas experience sees buses, trains and ferries clogged with older people in off peak periods - and not always to the amusement of the other traveling (and paying) public faced with overloaded vehicles and lengthy waits. And it's far from certain that this windfall will be (even partially) passed on to us in lower general fares.

The politics of it all are, of course, very cynical in these electoral times: the division of the community along age lines by these kind of special interest policies are breath taking but unsurprising. We won't be seeing Grey Power coming along to future ferry fare protest meetings! And will other parties now campaign for their interest groups? Free fares for Maori? For Christians?
But there is also a bigger picture to be considered. How are we ever going to get an integrated system without the Government bulk funding and tendering services? Like Pharmac bulk purchasing drugs for the health system's patients, ARTA could purchase public transport on behalf of all of us, which would make it either free for residents or at a capped monthly charge much lower than the current season ticket price.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

More rebel rabble rousing

From the C4FFF press release:
Waiheke Island commuters are about to find out just much food you can buy for $44. A protest organised by the Campaign for Fair Ferry Fares (C4FFF) will provide food for thought for the island's commuters on 1 October, when Fuller's new monthly ferry fare increases come into effect.
Members of the Campaign for Fair Ferry Fares will be at Matiatia Wharf, showing commuters and ferry users just how much will be coming out of their monthly food budget once they are purchasing tickets and monthly passes at the new increased rates.
Over the past six years, Waiheke commuters have faced dramatic price hikes of 52%. The latest increase of 12.7% has boosted the monthly commuters' pass from $300 to $344 and, for some Waiheke families, the household budget can't stretch any further.
C4FFF spokesperson Cathy Urquhart said, 'For some people on lower incomes, the choice is between fares or food. So we are putting $44 worth of food on the wharf to illustrate the impact for people and their families.'
C4FFF will be urging fellow commuters and community members to write to their politicians and request a reduction in fares.
'ARTA has powers under the new Public Transport Management Act to regulate the route and its affordability, but this will take a minimum of two years to be actioned. We can't wait that long to see the disastrous impact on families and local businesses as people leave the island. We need our politicians to act now'.
C4FFF held its first protest last month on September 1 after Fullers Ferries first announced the price hikes. A coffin full of petitions was carried onto the Fullers 8am sailing to protest against the death of diversity on the island.
The 'Food for Thought' protest will begin at Matiatia Wharf on Wednesday 1 October at 7am and continue until the 8am sailing.
Meanwhile the ferry monopoly situationand unacceptable fare hikes made the newspaper too, and was even reproduced on an Infratil website.

Shirin Brown, one of the members involved in the campaign, will be on the Scrutiny programme (on Triangle Television 1 October 7.30pm, and Stratos Television on October 7 at 9.30pm)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

From our island chief rebel rabble rouser:

Hear-ye! Hear-ye! Hear-ye!

A public meeting has been called to discuss the solutions to the unsustainable increase in ferry fares.
Chaired by John Stansfield, Executive Director, Cleanstream Ltd.
Mike Lee from the ARC, Judith Tizard MP (Associate Transport Minister), Denise Roche, Green candidate for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye, National candidate from Auckland Central, Jan Scott from FUG, Ray Ericson from the Community Board will all be in attendance. Fullers and ARTA have also been invited.

Public meeting 21st September, 2pm Ostend Memorial Hall

We need to ensure that Ferry Fares are sustainable for all the community. An increase of 52% over 6 years is hurting families, older people and young people. If nothing is done, Waiheke will become a place where only wealthy people can live.
We need to exert pressure to get change. One glimmer of hope is the newly passed Public Transport Management Act which empowers ARTA to get information from Fullers about its commercial operations. Pressure from our community is the only thing that can ensure that affordability becomes a criteria for our ferry route.
To be effective we need a full meeting, so come along have your say.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's that smell?

4:30pm septic sullage dumped into Motuihe – according to one staff member tank had just been pumped out reckoned it must have been residual waste. Can’t believe this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ferry price comparisons

I got curious to find out whether there is anywhere else in the world that is in a similar situation as Waiheke Island, i.e. a good-sized commuter population that is dependent on a ferry service to get to its main workplace. I'm surprised it's rather difficult to find and to compare prices as many different options exist and passes cover more or fewer other transport modes too (perhaps you could make me some suggestions).

In New Zealand, there is the Wellington ferry to Eastbourne, which costs $245 a month. Of course, Eastbourne commuters have plenty of other transport options.

Overseas, there is the Seattle to Vashon Island route. A monthly pass (valid for 31 return rides in a calendar month) costs US$118 (NZ$166). Comparison with Waiheke is difficult: there is no weekend service to Vashon and only three sailings a day during the week. The pass also doesn't cover any other transport mode. The monthly pass to Fauntleroy (West Seattle), which has many more sailings, costs US$55 (NZ$78).
The San Diego to Coronado ferry is free to commuters.
Many ferry services are to islands which also have road access (and thus an alternative for commuters), i.e. the Staten Island Ferry in New York, which is free of charge. The Sydney ferry system is another. Yearly combined ferry/bus passes are between A$1,280 (NZ$1,562) and A$2,200 (NZ$2,684) depending on the zones travelled. Inner harbour ferries in Boston cost commuters US$198 (NZ$279) a month (Commuter Boat Pass also good for unlimited travel on Local Bus, Subway, Express Bus, Inner Harbor Ferry, and Zones 1-4 on Commuter Rail). None of the destinations are islands.
The Alameda-Oakland ferry in San Francisco charges US$170 (NZ$240) for 20 return trips within a calendar month
The Hong Kong Star ferry between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui costs HK$110 (NZ$20) a month. Of course there many other transport options in Hong Kong and the public transport has the wonderfully integrated Octopus Card system.
In Vancouver all-mode monthly passes (including SeaBus) cost between C$73 (NZ$99) and C$136 (NZ$184) depending on the number of zones.
In Scandinavia, Malmö has now become a suburbs of Copenhagen, thanks to the Øresund bridge/tunnel linking the two. Ferries are not really the preferred commuter option there.
In Maine, Peaks Island Frequent Rider costs US$87 (NZ$123.50). Cliff Island costs US$127.50 (NZ$181).
Isle of Wight (Ryde to Portsmouth) fast ferry costs £150.80 (NZ$392)

So, in summary, the Auckland to Waiheke commuter ferry service is one of the most expensive stretch of water in the world. Regards the Isle of Wight fare, one should consider UK wages are way higher than in NZ, and so I would still posit that Waiheke actually is the most expensive fare in the world.

Annus horribilis continues

Adding insult to injury, as one of my fellow commuters put it succinctly, Fullers ferries is having another season of engine breakdowns, shoddy service and a general Winter of discontent among its customers. It doesn't seem to be enough for them to announce extraordinary inflated price rises, but to reduce the service to a slow trickle akin to water torture.
Last night the hordes waiting for the 6.30pm had a sinking feeling all was not well, what with the Jet Raider already out of action for over a week, and now the Discoverer laid up with engine trouble too. It was left to that dinky toy, Quickcat II, to do a major commuter run and it chugged into port already 10 minutes late. The hardworking Fullers tannoy announcer (almost as hardworking as the Fullers ferry delay/cancellation text information disseminator) tried to assure us it would only be five minutes - but we all know what Fullers' definition of 5 minutes is: it's comparable to its claim the journey time to Waiheke is 35 minutes, but not many boats have actually achieved that claim without blowing a gasket.
So we all filed onto the Quickcat II (it always reminds me of live sheep shipments) to be squashed together and with knowledge that not everybody would be able to board. Packed to the rafters and all set to go, the captain informed us that we would not be leaving until St John's Ambulance staff had picked up a patient off the boat, who had been lying in sick bay when everybody got on. And the ambulance wasn't turning up soon.
Meanwhile the Superflyte was arriving back from Waiheke - as if it was lapping the Quickcat II in a cycle race. Now the captain informed us that Superflyte would be leaving at 7.15pm and would make it to Waiheke far faster than his toy boat could. So the hordes disembarked to change boats, filing past the mortified patient again, who I hope didn't think it was his fault he inconvenienced those 200 people.
So my commuting time last night from work to home took three hours. No apology from Fullers on Superflyte, not even a discounted drink on board. Surely Fullers is an odds-on favourite for worst customer service company in New Zealand.

After a flurry of press activity on and off-island (with a promise of article in the next Herald on Sunday to come), the rock dwellers are now looking at what more direct action to take when the fare hikes bite come Monday. We've been asked to wear black to mourn the death of diversity on Waiheke by all that economic cleansing, and a symbolic coffin will be carried.

I've added my $44 worth:
- Boycott the ferry cafes longterm. They've pocketed your $44 drinks budget already in the monthly pass price rise
- Ask the ARC/ARTA to cancel the alcohol purchase restrictions and replace their on-board licences with BYO licences. If you can bring your coffee on board, why not your own beer?
- Ask the Commerce Commission to launch an inquiry into the monopolistic and anti-competitive practices by Fullers/Stagecoach/Infratil, looking at the barriers for a competitive service on the Waiheke ferry service, and the dereliction of duty by ARTA/ARC when they allowed Fullers to buy Pacific Ferries.
- Ask the ARC/ARTA to call for tenders for a competitive service, including integrated ticketing on buses to prevent level field distortions
- Ask the ARC/ARTNL/ACC to refund the $20 a month wharf charge to passengers, which is now being pocketed by Fullers. No wharf charges should be imposed especially as third world conditions on Pier 2 persist. Wharves should be funded from general infrastructure investment (as trains stations and bus stops are), not from a departure tax. (And since Waiheke passengers paid for all the Auckland region wharves, can we now assume proper ownership of them too, so we can set our own charges for use)

Friday, August 15, 2008

An extra turn of the screw

Fullers have finally formulated the way they are going to increase patronage, encourage tourism to Waiheke Island and generally care for the economic well-being of the island: they're putting the fares up by three times the current inflation rate.
A monthly pass will now cost $344 (up from $300, or 15%). A simple fun day out for your family and kids will now cost a small fortune and it'll be cheaper and more convenient to throw them all in the car and drive to Raglan or Ruakaka instead.

The "justification" the company gives is the usual baloney of increased operating and fuel costs (needless to say fares never come down when oil prices fall).
So the economic cleansing of the island continues apace: higher ferry fares will make people look at relocating off-island closer to work, if they have to commute; make it more costly to "import" workers who need to reverse commute to Waiheke (accommodation on the island is hardly affordable for low paid service workers anyway) so provision of services will become more expensive on Waiheke; and it will encourage people on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, to cash up and move out, which is also encouraged by relentless property tax increases imposed by a city council bent on keeping its income stream safe rather than focusing on how much more they rake off the island than spend there in services.

The Fullers-friendly owners of two local newspapers (Marketplace and Waiheke Week) faithfully reprinted the Fullers press release with little comment. Perhaps the deadlines were cleverly observed by the Fullers PR people. But it didn't prevent Waiheke Week (you can always rely on Merv to take the hard-done-by-capitalist company corner against the tree-hugging, rabble-rousing islanders) from editorialising that Fullers has no responsibilities towards Waiheke's economic or social well-being, and new island developments such as Ridgeview and Isola Estate will bring in extra passengers of a kind that never need to look at their black American Express card account, let alone a ferry fare ticket.

You can't blame Fullers for loyally carrying out what any monopoly business would do if it was it its place: squeeze the customer pips til they squeak. Infratil shareholders demand their dividend for buying up the business, and there is no regulator standing in the way of charging the highest fares and delivering the lowest service possible.
So there's the rub: the Auckland Regional Council and its toothless transport regulator have no say in whatever gouging a company like Fullers can engage in, simply because Fuller refuses to accept a subsidy for the Waiheke run as it would come with financial and regulation strings attached. Now it has no minimum service requirements; it can cancel sailings when it wants; organise schedules as it pleases; charge fares it can get away with and employ boats of a dubious quality on its runs. In short, it wants us to pay a first class fare for a cattle class service.

Coincidentally, BBC Hardtalk interviewed Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary last night, saying his business model to attract more customers is to keep on slashing prices and make costs as transparent as possible for passengers. You can now fly "anywhere" in Europe for £10 on his airline and promised not to impose fuel charges on his customers.
Here in New Zealand we have also signs of market forces working in favour of customers in the airline and bus travel industries: Pacific Blue and The Naked Bus offer enticing fares to places all over New Zealand at prices that wouldn't be possible under monopoly conditions. So basically all we need is a "Naked Ferry" company to come in to put a rocket under the Jet Raider and stick it up Fullers where the sun don't shine.

What is now needed is an official inquiry by the Auckland Regional Council into why there is no effective competition possible on the Hauraki Gulf and the ways to remedy this market failure. One clue is the integrated ticketing arrangement between Fullers Ferries, the Waiheke Bus Company and Stagecoach Bus, which allows seamless transfers for commuters (only those with monthly passes) between transport modes. Any new company coming in can't offer this considerable advantage and this has to change by region-wide integrated ticketing between bus, train and ferries with a capped price on monthly usage.
So come on, ARC Chairman Mike Lee, where are your market credentials and your monopoly busting skills when we need them?

UPDATE 1: This morning (18 Aug) Fullers warned passengers on the morning commuter boats that a smaller vessel would be in service due to a Jet Raider "technical failure". It may lead to passengers being denied boarding the 8am sailing. So I took the 7.20am which was more packed than usual. It is clear that Fullers really isn't up to its task of transporting passengers comfortably, at a reasonable price and on time.

UDPATE 2: A version of this blog entry was sent to the NZ Herald as a letter to the editor (which they don't put online) and my fellow commuters shouted that it was splashed all over the page as a headline. Which made me blush, of course. But I hope it will shame Fullers into pulling their socks up and reconsider this price hike as a PR disaster.

UPDATE 3: I mailed this blog entry to all Auckland councillors on the Auckland Regional Council and Chairman Mike Lee got back to me:
"I have raised this issue with ARTA in terms of what we can do and will respond in more detail as soon as possible.
I completely share your concerns especially given the news that some very questionable arrangement has enabled Fullers to pocket the public's wharf tax component of the ticket. I have raised these concerns in the media to put the spotlight on Fullers."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fullers ferry service

Time to fire off another letter to Fullers for their abominable ferry service:

A sign on the Jet Raider said that during the survey period for Quickcat my Waiheke service would be provided by Jet Raider. A similar sign said the same thing when Surperflyte is on survey. Why do I cop the Jet Raider for both surveys? Why can't the 7.20am ex Matiatia and 5.30pm ex Auckland people get the unsurpassed Jet Raider service for a change? What have I done wrong to deserve these 6 weeks of choice between diesel fumes upstairs and methane fumes downstairs every year?

UPDATE: This is what I got back from Fullers:

Thank you for your recent e mail enquiring about vessel allocations on our Waiheke services.
As you are probably aware, Jetraider is a back up vessel to both Superflyte and Quickcat on Waiheke services.
The 7.20am ex Matiatia and 5.30pm ex Auckland are our busiest services and we will reschedule vessels to provide the maximum space and comfort to the majority of passengers wherever possible, which will mean changes to the allocation of vessels from time to time.
Your comments concerning diesel fumes and methane fumes on the Jetraider are noted and acknowledged and while we cannot remedy the outside smell of diesel fumes completely, we have had positive feedback on the improvement to the odour within the vessel since it has returned from it’s own survey. I will ensure our maintenance team investigate further your feedback on methane fumes within the cabin.

So the answer is: Yup, another six weeks of Jet Raider for you, matey.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's that smell?

On the 8: 00 am sailing from Waiheke - 8:15 am Fuller’s release septic waste off Quickcat into Rangitoto Channel off Islington Bay.