Monday, April 27, 2009

C4FFF calls for accountability by Fullers

Campaign for Fair Ferry Fares (C4FF) has hit out at recent claims by Fullers CEO Doug Hudson (see Marketplace article, 22 April) that it has not benefited from the SuperGold scheme.

In the Marketplace article, Fullers CEO Doug Hudson claimed, ‘Half the GoldCard passengers are now travelling free instead of paying fares of one type or another’. Dr Urquhart responds, ‘That is ridiculous! Fullers are reimbursed at 75% of the standard fare, $25.18 per return, which is above most concession fares, so clearly they are not losing money – we estimate a profit to their bottom line of 20%” says Dr Urquhart.

Mr Hudson also claimed that current passenger levels are about the same as they were a year ago. Dr Urquhart responds, ‘It’s obvious to anyone using the boats that there has been a huge increase since SuperGold was introduced last year. If that is true – we’d like to see the numbers! The problem is we never see the numbers, because Fullers are not accountable to anyone.’

C4FFF wants Fullers to be held accountable to the community, and to the statutory public transport body (currently ARTA). Campaign spokesperson Dr Cathy Urquhart says, ‘Our long term future is at stake each time diesel goes up. Our economy is deeply affected by who can afford to commute and live here, and who can afford to visit. Should the future of our ferry link to the CBD be in the hands of an unaccountable monopoly? No!’

In response, the group is launching a petition – Your Future is in Their Hands – at 7am Matiatia Wharf on Friday 1 May, calling for future accountability from the monopoly, now owned by Souter Holdings Ltd. Ferry fares have increased by 46% since 2002, and the cost of living has gone up by 26% in the same period (see attached graph analysis). This has resulted in some low income families and young people being forced off the island.

The group will put up a visual display – including graphs and banners – at the wharf, to graphically illustrate the dwindling purchasing power of the ferry users’ dollar since 2002.

Dr Urquhart adds, ‘The first step for the future is to get a mechanism of accountability in place so that Fullers can’t just put up the fares when they want. There should be dialogue with the community and with ARTA – or the governing transport authority – first. We need to have our say right now about the future affordability of ferries and buses on the island, before it’s too late!’

C4FFF is also co-sponsoring a public meeting to address those issues with the Better Buses Action Group. The meeting will be held at Ostend Memorial Hall on Saturday 16 May. Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, Hauraki Gulf Cr Denise Roche, ARTA General Manager Peter Clarke, ARC Leader Mike Lee, CEO of Fullers Doug Hudson have all been invited. The meeting will focus on issues of future accountability and affordability and call for submissions on the draft Public Transport Management Plan, due to be released on May 1.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

C4FFF releases SuperGold Card figures

Campaign 4 Fair Ferry Fares (C4FFF) has released new figures for the government funded SuperGold scheme, showing Fullers Ferries reaping significant financial gains since the scheme was implemented late last year. A total of $756,429 (excluding GST) was claimed by Fullers from the SuperGold reimbursement scheme for Waiheke ferry services between 1 October 2008 and 28 February 2009. This means that 23% of the subsidy that ARTA is claiming from the government is being received by Fullers for Waiheke ferry services. The group estimates that Fullers are carrying approximately 3000 SuperGold passengers each week.

Campaign spokesperson Dr Cathy Urquhart said that the new owner of Fullers, Souter Holdings – which announced its purchase of Fullers from Infratil on 6 April – will be under continued, strong pressure in 2009 to pass on the benefits of SuperGold profits and low diesel prices to Waiheke commuters.

"Fullers is pocketing a huge benefit from the Supergold card scheme and the falling diesel prices, but they haven’t yet passed on those savings in a fair and transparent way," says C4FFF spokesperson Dr Cathy Urquhart. "Fullers earnings before tax are estimated to be $5 million as at 31 March 2009. So we estimate that the Supergold subsidy represents a 20% windfall by the end of winter. Far from Infratil divesting itself from an underperforming business by selling Fullers to Souter Holdings, it would seem that Fullers is still doing very nicely thank you!"

"We will be watching Fullers performance very carefully in the coming months. Issues such as transparent and affordable fares, passenger levies, fuel surcharges, safeguarded bus concessions and integrated ticketing must be debated with the community, or we have simply exchanged one monopoly for another."

Dr Urquhart is urging Waiheke residents to attend the public meeting organised by C4FF on Saturday 16 May at 2pm, Ostend Memorial Hall, to discuss transport issues for the island. The group is also offering its assistance for public submissions under the PTMP.

"We want to urge Waiheke Islanders to take an active role in determining the future of sustainable and affordable transport for their community, and we have invited local operators, councillors and MPs to be a part of that dialogue – so come along and have your say!"

People who would like to know more about the public meeting and receive a template submission form for the Public Transport Management Plan, can contact C4FFF for further information.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Super Gold Card loot

C4FFF obtained the official information figures on how much Fullers has raked in from the Government Super Gold Card subsidies.
A tidy sum of $756,000 went straight to Fullers' bottom line as it was achieved and received without any increase in costs for the company: hardly any extra staff or sailing had to be put on the Waiheke run (and it showed in the groaning boats over the summer).
The Herald reports:
Excursions to the island by an average of just over 200 pensioners a day accounted for almost a quarter of the Government's contribution to free off-peak travel on trains, buses and ferries throughout the Auckland region. [...] Campaign 4 Fair Ferry Fares spokeswoman Cathy Urquhart, who obtained the Government subsidy breakdown from the transport authority, says she is not begrudging senior citizens and war pensioners the freedom of her island.
"That's absolutely fine, seeing them all over the island," she said yesterday. "But at the same time we've got young people having to move off the island because they can't afford the fares. Fullers is pocketing a huge benefit from the Super Gold card scheme and the falling diesel prices, but haven't yet passed on those savings in a fair and transparent way."
Dr Urquhart's group campaigned fiercely against increases in ferry fares in October after Fullers blamed hefty fuel and maintenance cost rises. Although Fullers has since reduced one fare and also partly rescinded increases on other routes, the group has continued to press for more cuts as diesel prices have kept falling.
It issued a table yesterday claiming that the monthly Waiheke fare was now 23 per cent higher in terms of how much diesel it could buy than an average level since mid-2005.
Fullers responded with the usual bleating of other rising costs and the purchase of two inappropriate vessels from Tasmania who can't do the Waiheke run when the wind is blowing. But no response of the hypocrisy of using diesel hikes to increase fares and then denying a fare discount when diesel prices are at 2 year lows.
The drop in patronage that "has now been stemmed" was due to the gouging the company indulged in last year. Ferries were the only public transport mode that lost customers last year. It's not rocket science to find out why.
So now Fullers pockets are lined with out tax dollars, plus monopoly fares. Congratulations, Brian Souter, you bought a money printing press.

Friday, April 3, 2009

After dark rip off

Something I hadn't noticed before, not being a casual ferry ticket buyer, but has apparently been going on for yonks. When you want to take the Fullers ferry from Waiheke later in the evening you cannot buy a ticket at Matiatia wharf because all the staff have gone home for the night. You have to buy a ticket on the boat. But Fullers charges an extra $5 on top of your fare for the privilege.

So if I get this straight: you have to pay a $5 surcharge even though the Fullers saves on closing its ticket counter.
And this is not the case at the Auckland wharf.

Four words (borrowed from Catherine Tate): What a fucking liberty.