Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fullers apologises to its Waiheke customers

I found an A5-sized pamphlet on the ferry headed "Customer Announcement: An Apology to Our Waiheke Customers". I can't find it on their website to link to, so I'll paraphrase. It says they had a larger number than expected vessels out of service due to what they call "unplanned maintenance", a euphemism for engine breakdown. Planned maintenance on Adventurer had to be delayed due to the Rugby World Cup and its unusually busy period (didn't they know this event was coming?).

Then for some statistics: in the past 3 years, 13 out of 20 engines have been rebuilt or replaced (several boats have two engines, it's not as if Fullers have a secret fleet stashed away somewhere) at a cost of over $4 million. Regardless, the "unusually high breakdown rates" indicate to me either bad engineering skills or patch-up work to keep costs down in the short term (but of course not in the long term, as any business 101 course will tell you).
But happily we can look forward to the triumphant return of Superflyte on the 6:30pm ex-Auckland sailing (after a spate of sardine-like conditions lately), and Doug Hudson is looking forward to your comments. Leave your feedback here.

You really have to be stupid not to think that the point of catastrophic breakdown of the ferry system in Auckland, i.e. when there are simply not enough vessels to meet the demand, is not far off and that the company is derelict in its investment plans for new capacity. The tragedy is that there is simply no mechanism or regulation in place to ensure that Waiheke is not economically strangled by this private profiteering monopoly company.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The joys of the Outer Link

I found myself inadvertently catching the Outer Link bus from Pt Chevalier to Balmoral (the southern part of the route) and then the next day from Balmoral to the CBD. It's a brand new line with brand new buses so I was glad to try it out. There was no waiting time at the Pt Chev bus stop, the bus had arrived there before I did, so all good. The frequency stated by Maxx is about every 15mins, which I guess in Auckland's bus system is not bad at all - especially on the weekend. It chugged along happily but at frequent intervals there was an announcement that the bus may be waiting a few minutes at some bus stops to prevent it getting too much out of whack with its timetable. This makes for a very slow frustrating progress. It took about 40mins to get from Pt Chev to Balmoral and about 30mins to get to downtown. If you're in Balmoral, it may be faster to catch a Mt Eden bus route.
As you can see in the route diagram, there are some curious "kinks" in the route, i.e. where deviations into side streets happen instead of going straight through. Why there is this lengthy detour through Mt Eden to end up again on Balmoral Road is a mystery to me. Hardly anyone got off or on in that deviation, and it just added to the travel time.
Being a Saturday, I thought it was very well patronised, and best of all, it's free for Waiheke Fullers monthly pass holders (as are the other Link services).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Summertime snafus starting early

The afternoon started ominously with a txt message from Fullers advising that the 17:00 and 18:30 ex-Auckland would be run by Jet Raider. My last experience on that boat didn't end well so I was dreading the worst for getting home in any reasonable amount of time. And again, Fullers didn't disappoint in that department. Superflyte was doing the normal Quickcat services, as Quickcat was chartered for a party on the harbour cruise: the seats were piled high on the wharf to make way for dancing punters. Fullers, being a fully private company unbeholden to its daily paying customers, has the right to take boats out of commuting service when it has the chance of making far more per charter passenger than from those pesky, complaining commuters.

At 18:00 came another txt advising that the 17:40 ex-Waiheke was cancelled (JR came back from Waiheke late and empty). The girl on the wharf tannoy tried to keep our spirits up by announcing the ferry was "about 10 minutes late". Of course Fullers time has no link to real time and we left 20mins late.

Of course, this being Friday and Summertime, the 18:30 sailing has to go via Devonport, come what may, being late or not, having crashed into the Devonport wharf before or not, Fullers' internal infernal route and timetabling has to be obeyed, and off we chugged to Waiheke.
Jet Raider was going suspiciously slow and we arrived about 19:45 at Matiatia, shortly followed by the 19:15 Superflyte. Again, Jet Raider left Waiheke empty. I innocently asked a staff member behind the bar why the boat went at half speed and she was offended by the suggestion that I noticed something like that. She was adamant the boat went full speed but was delayed by the number of passengers.
It's a sign capitalism is based on fear when you can get your employees on the minimum wage to lie and do your PR for you.
It doesn't bode well for the rest of the Summer, but we know our place and the live sheep shipments will blithely continue.

But a good thing that happened and kept the frustrated waiting punters' spirits up on Matiatia wharf was a flash mob carol singalong by V12 and Sister Shout:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A faux discount

For the December and January months, Fullers has offered a $25 discount on the $350 monthly passes, which is about 7%. The reason, ostensibly, is to encourage you to keep on buying a pass instead of pondering alternatives because you may work fewer days in those months. What it certainly is not do is offer compensation for the crappy service over the last few months: Jet Raider still out of service, and some big boats replaced by smaller boats, to get that lovely feeling of being packed in like sardines. Pathetic.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jet Raider's disastrous return to service

Jet Raider's return to service lasted less than a day with hastily replacements from this morning. The little boat,s such as Starflyte and Adventurer, are now doing the Superflyte service in pairs while Superflyte takes over Quickcat's runs. I don't know where Quickcat has gone. As I said before, they should have taken the opportunity to scuttle the Jet Raider after its August mid-channel breakdown.

Monday, September 12, 2011

International ferry fare comparison update

In August 2008 and October 2010 we did research into various ferry fares around the world. So we are now doing an update and comparison over 3 years.
The Waiheke ferry is still up there among the most expensive in the world, not really a change there. What has changed is an increase in the number of integrated ticketing systems available for all transport modes within a geographical region – even in so-called developing countries like Turkey -  something we are still waiting for in Auckland.

Service Aug 2008

Oct 2010 Sep 2011 Ride length Notes
Auckland-Waiheke (NZ) $344 $330 $350
$19 a trip
35mins Valid for Waiheke ferry, bus and selected Auckland bus services
Wellington-Eastbourne* (NZ) $245 $252 $252 20mins
Seattle-Vashon (USA) US$118/$166 US$3.75/$4.90 a trip US$3.75/$4.60 a trip 22mins Orca card prepay
West Seattle-Vashon (USA) US$55/$78 US$53.50/$70.30 US$3/$3.67 a trip 10mins Orca card prepay
Seattle-Kingston (USA)
US$275/$361.50 US$250/$305.85 for 40 rides 50mins Limited service
San Diego-Coronado* (USA) Free Free Free 15mins
New York-Staten Island* (USA) Free Free Free 25mins
Sydney ferries* (AUS) A$1,280/$1,562 to A$2,200/$2,684 a year A$41/$53.70 to A$57/$74.40 a week A$42.20/$53.58 to A$52.80/$67.03 for 10 rides

Boston ferries* (USA) US$198/$279 US$198/$260.30 US$198/$242.23
All mode travel
Alameda-Oakland* (USA) US$170/$240 US$170/$223.50 US$170/$207.98 20mins 40 rides within one month
Hong Kong Star Ferry* (HK) HK$110/$20 HK$125/$21.20 HSK$125/$19.61 9mins
Vancouver Translink (CAN) C$73/$99 to C$136/$184 C$81/$106.60 to C$151/$198.70 C$81/$99.18 to C$151/$184.90
Zone based, all travel modes
Maine Portland (USA) US$87/$123.50 to US$127.50/$181 US$82.45/$108.40 to US$125.15/$164.50 US$82.45/$100.87 to US$125.15/$153.11
Various islands
Isle of Wight (UK) £150.80/$392 £163/$343.70 £171.50/$332.52 22mins
Vlissingen-Breskens* (NL)
€69.50/$130 €69.50/$115.53 20mins
Den Helder-Texel (NL)
€30/$55 €30/$49.87 20mins 15 return tickets on OV- chipcard
Istanbul ferries*

TL1.75/$1.18 a trip
Istanbul card

Notes: All prices are for monthly passes and ferry travel only, unless stated otherwise. The exchange rates are at Aug 2008, Oct 2010 and Sep 2011.
* denotes not an island service, passengers have other (land-based) transport options.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Fast, reliable and cheap". Yeah, right

An interesting article in the NZ Herald on the length of time of commuting by car; and the dearth and cost of public transport costing Auckland a higher ranking in the world of liveable cities.
Auckland has again been rated bottom of a class of 14 cities for the average number of public transport trips taken annually by its residents.
They took an average of just 44 trips a year, compared with 74 trips by Wellingtonians, 124 by Melbourne residents and 168 by those in Ottawa.
The report noted that Auckland's public transport patronage has risen 8.5 per cent since the study.
Aucklanders also paid the highest average fares of the surveyed cities, of 24c for every kilometre travelled, compared with 17c in Wellington and 11c in Perth.
To which we can easily answer: you city dwellers in Auckland have got it sweet. We, Waihekeans (and you poor tradies trotting over to the island every morning), pay $1 per kilometre travelled.
That's the price we pay for a private monopoly. "Public transport" is an alien concept on the Waitemata.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jet Raider evacuation

I happened to be on board the Jet Raider on Sunday 11am ex-AKL with 315 other passengers. It was a glorious Spring-like morning with just a whispery breeze on the harbour. In the middle of the Motuihe Channel the vessel came to a shuddering halt, with the loss of all engine power. This was not something I have experienced before, as most other instances of failure I have endured only affected one of the engines. The ship drifted, spun round its axle and the captain came on the tannoy saying there would be another vessel alongside shortly to take us to Waiheke. No mention of the cause of the failure, we had to hear that from another staff member who told a passenger.
Starflyte, and later SuperFlyte plus the Coast Guard, turned up and after some manoeuvering (and the dropping of Jet Raider's anchor about 20 minutes after the stop) evacuation of all passengers could begin. All managed to jump on - I'm not sure what the legal capacity limit of Starflyte is but 316 passengers (and those already on board) made for a packed sailing.

This could have had the potential of a major disaster had the breeze been much stiffer: we drifted towards Motuihe and its reef quite markedly in the balmy conditions. Hell knows what would have happened trying to get everybody off Jet Raider in much more trying circumstances (let alone foundered on rocks). It took about half an hour of orderly evacuation as it was. Imagining we had to get off in a panic is the stuff of nightmares.

I trust the Maritime Safety Authority will have a word about this. Scuttling Jet Raider afterwards was an opportunity missed to get rid of the thing.

Press coverage:
New Zealand Herald
Sunday Star Times
Sunday News
Radio New Zealand

Thursday, August 25, 2011

August misery par for the course

August turned out to be another miserable month for Fullers. Both Quickcat and Superflyte (barely back from their surveys) have suffered "unplanned maintenance" outages - Fullers-speak for trainee diesel engineers on the minimum wage patching things up with #8 wire. No sign of a September fare discount though. Must be all those (non-monthly pass holder) protesters who didn't get one last time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fullers keeps Whangarei engineering firm in business

From the Northern Advocate:
Barge building is providing one Whangarei engineering firm with a welcome boost to business - and 15 extra jobs. [...] It has also been kept busy lately repairing Auckland's Fullers' ferry fleet.
"There's been a whole schedule of repairs over the last year, one after the other, so it's been good," said [co-owner Glenn] Heape.
A steady stream of returning vessels queuing to get surveyed, serviced and repaired over and over again. It's been a another Winter of Discontent on the Waitemata. And another groundhog day.
But with international oil prices falling to almost 12 month lows, sky high fares and muddling through with overloaded small boats, Fullers carries no risk in providing the profits.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waiheke campaigns against ferry fare increases

Thank you, Scott Ewing, for the excellent video. This encapsulates what this blog and campaign for fair ferry fares are all about.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Auckland Transport official response

Remember the case of a Supergold Card fare being issued by a Waiheke Bus Co driver to a passenger who was not 65 nor had a Supergold Card?
Now Auckland Transport Public Transport Operations Manager Mark Lambert finally got round to mailing me an official response:
Auckland Transport requested a copy of Fullers investigation into the incident that occurred in March 2011. I can advise that an independent company investigator from Wellington conducted two days of covert observations on Waiheke Island. During that period, no evidence of fraudulent driver activity was identified.
An interview with the driver in question was conducted and it was concluded that the error occurred due to an inattention detail and poor technique with the use of the Wayfarer (ticketing) equipment.
As a consequence, the Waiheke Bus Company manager has spoken to all drivers to reiterate the correct process for the issue of Super Gold card tickets.
I can confirm that, as part of its Contract Management process, Auckland Transport continuously monitors all Public Transport operator declaration regarding patronage and financial claims made under the concessionary fare reimbursement scheme.
In addition, Auckland Transport administers and monitors the regional declarations made by Public Transport operators as part of the national SuperGold card free travel scheme introduced in October 2008.
In support of this, periodic financial and patronage audits are made across all participating operators.
The audit review seeks to validate the integrity of the supplied data through the following process:
1. Historical trend analysis of patronage movements by contract, route and passenger type.
2. Sample testing of operator daily sales records and reconciliation by monthly declarations.
3. Sample testing of operator on board supervisor/inspector ticketing services.
4. A sample of unannounced observations is made to monitor the validity of the ticket issue process.
5. Auckland Transport conducts regular Mystery Traveller surveys across all operators to monitor customer service and satisfaction levels. These surveys include correct ticket issue for fare tendered.
6. Auckland Transport continuously monitors customer complaints to identify any abnormal trends and actively requests operators to investigate individual cases.
7. Auckland Transport may conduct an independent investigation upon circumstance.
So, good news, but vigilance remains the by-word. The issuing of correct fares will become less problematic under the HOP scheme, and my hope is that this should see the SuperGold Card integrated into it too. Auckland Transport expects all operators to have become members of the HOP system by the end of 2012.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Winter mishaps

It's that time of year again - living on Waiheke and being faced with Fullers is like Groundhog Day - when the Winter misfortunes beset Fullers. On 6 July we had the undignified crash bang fest featuring Jet Raider and the Devonport Wharf. Then a mechanical failure on Superflyte. And to top it off, Quickcat, freshly returned from its annual survey where she's been presumably prodded more than a hooker on K Road, lost power to one engine on the 6.30pm AKL-YHK run.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

CBD bus route changes

Auckland Transport released the new bus map for the inner city with all the new routes they consulted on in the past few months. For ferry users there will now be a City Link bus from Wynyard Quarter to K Road (it may not be a very fast route as it will still be stuck in the Queen St traffic swamp). But the Central Connector may become a faster route to Newmarket than the Inner Link. Route 30 to Grey Lynn, taking over from the old 035, moves to Albert St instead of Queen St.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Draft Local Board Plan 2011

The Waiheke Local Board Draft Plan has been released for consultation starting on 8 July. Submissions need to be in by 8 August.
This is what it has to say about transport:
Fast ferry services to and from the Auckland Central Business District have both encouraged economic growth on Waiheke Island over the past two decades (in 2009, there were 2,039 people employed in 1,191 businesses on the Island) and created a significant commuter population (approximately 1,200 people commute to the mainland for work).
However, the relatively high cost of ferry services adversely affects residents and commuters and may become a major problem if fares continue to rise. It also has the potential to impact on visitor numbers with negative consequences for the local economy and employment. However, the introduction of the New Zealand Goldcard free travel system has boosted the number of older people traveling to Waiheke Island.

We will advocate to Auckland Transport about the high costs of ferry services, which are due to the lack of subsidies for the privately owned services. We will advocate for the introduction of a subsidy as we recognise the effect increasing fares have on the local community, visitors and the local economy. We want to see Waiheke public transport services (ferry and bus) included in the Auckland Transport integrated ticketing scheme. In order to encourage increased bus patronage we will advocate for a series of linking, cross-island, feeder routes for smaller buses.
We will advocate, in the interests of local and regional development, for transport links and adequate wharves to provide better access to and around the Hauraki Gulf Islands.
We acknowledge the prosperity brought to Waiheke by our relationship with the city and will actively work to preserve and enhance this.
There are some long-advocated Fullerswatch points there, including fare rise concerns, subsidies and integrated ticketing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Local Board meeting 9 June 2011

On the Local Board agenda for a meeting on 9 June I found this:
Matiatia Wharf Tax

A board enquiry about where the wharf tax money is held and the policy around its use. Are the funds used to improve regional facilities?

Auckland City Council (ACC) traditionally collected a charge for its ferry assets involved in public transport. ACC had more recently reviewed and negotiated a rate for wharves revenue with operations of 52 cents per travelling passenger. This income from every individual passenger was chargeable at all ACC controlled public transport sites across the Gulf Islands. The income generated by this is directed back into all Gulf island sites (Waiheke, Great Barrier and Rakino) for maintenance and general upkeep. It is worth noting that this income does not cater for renewals or replacements of any infrastructure after the given life cycle of a particular site. It is now acknowledged that this income represents a considerable and rather sizable under-recovery against all these asset sites (my emphasis)
Does this mean they are planning to up the wharf tax?
There is still no mention where the past paid money (is it still in dispute with Fullers?) is or has gone to.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fullers bidding for the Sydney ferries contract

From Radio New Zealand:
New Zealand ferry operator Fullers is one of 28 companies to have registered interest in the running Sydney's ferry service.
The New South Wales Government plans to have a private ferry operator in place by the end of next year, but will retain control of the fare structure and routes.
The Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Capital, and Manly Fast Ferry are among the Australian companies to have registered.
British firm, Serco, which runs the new Mt Eden jail in Auckland, has also registered its interest.
New South Wales transport minister, Gladys Berejeklian says the interest is encouraging, because only 10 firms applied during an aborted franchise process in 2008.
She says the organisation hasn't been well managed for a decade, while the private sector has demonstrated its ability to efficiently run other transport services in Australia.
When will the Auckland Council grow the balls to implement a similar structure here, retaining control of fares and routes?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Diesel price down

From AA Petrolwatch:
Fuel prices have fallen for the fourth time in a fortnight, with petrol and diesel both dropping 3 cents per litre on 24 May. This follows a 4 cent/litre reduction on 22 May, a 3c/l drop on the 16 May and a 6c/l drop on 9 May – the first price reduction since August 2010.
The listed diesel retail price is $1.48 on 26 May, the same level as on 4 March. So why aren't the Fullers fares back at March levels now that their main argument for the recent price hike has been sinking? Could it be that Fullers is being used as a cash cow by Souter Holdings to finance its US$861 million investment in a Turkish ferry company?

UPDATE from AA Petrolwatch news release:
Prices drop for first time in 8 months

May was a month of extreme contrasts, with petrol prices hitting their highest ever level and then falling for the first time since August 2010.

“May began ominously with petrol prices reaching an all-time record high of $2.22 per litre, but within days prices began tumbling due to lower commodity prices and a rising exchange rate,” says AA PetrolWatch spokesperson Mark Stockdale.

After 91 octane petrol rose to $2.22 per litre in the main centres in early May, prices fell four times during the month to end on $2.06 per litre. The price of diesel also fell 16 cents to $1.48 per litre at most outlets by month end.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Amazing how Fullers always manages to mothball Superflyte for maintenance when nor-easterly stormy weather is looming. Must be to ensure maximal discomfort of passengers: Wednesday's 5pm ex Auckland and 5.45pm ex-Waiheke sailings cancelled and a bumpy fairground-like ride on Jet Raider.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Superflyte out of action

Fullers text alerted to maintenance needed on Superflyte so it will be off the run for two weeks (and shall we hold our breath it will be back in a fortnight?). Jet raider, as usual, will do the runs instead. Pity none of that $861m for Istanbul Ferries is coming our way.

UPDATE: Superflyte was back on the water 15 days later .

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ferry patronage up to March 2011

The monthly patronage figures are out. Spectacular growth in March where in other years the end of Summer sag usually starts. Must be all those oldies going for a free daytrip.
April and May will be more interesting to see the effect of the April price hike. As seen in September last year it can affect passenger numbers drastically.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Winter breakdowns start early, part 2

From a passenger: The 6.40am Waiheke to Auckland trip on Superflyte was 10 minutes late arriving in town as there was a breakdown involving one engine this morning.
Some time later there was a text from Fullers saying that the 8am dep from Waiheke was running 20 min late because of a breakdown.
Guess they flogged them over Easter and did not give them the necessary maintenance.

The 8am ex-Auckland was indeed 20 minutes late this morning, they had to swap Superflyte with Jetraider and it tuk-tuk-ed into Auckland by 9am. There were a huge number of prams and parents with children on board, plus a St John's medical emergency, which made embarking and disembarking a laborious and lengthy chore. Everybody was late for work. Not a good look for being the first day of Winter. The Jetraider at least gives you enough time to meditate what your $4,200 a year is actually spent on. (Here is an idea: $861m on Turkish ferry services)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Winter breakdowns starting early?

From a passenger:
Yesterday [13 April 2011] the 4pm sailing got as far as the container wharf and then had to turn back as there was some sort of problem. All the 4pm passengers were squashed on the 5pm sailing which must have been overloaded.
I heard this morning from another 5pm passenger that Fullers gave the 4pm passengers $5 vouchers but she did not know what the vouchers covered.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ferries patronage figures February 2011

There has been a record 12.6% increase in ferry patronage in the year on year February figure:
Remember this is the whole ferry system, not just Waiheke, even though we provide the bulk of the patronage. It'll be interesting to see what the effect of the fare rise will be in April's figures. In August/September they went down!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Super Gold Card "fraud" issue

After prodding the Waiheke Bus Company management about their investigation into the Super Gold Card (SGC) ticket issue to a fare paying passenger Michael Fitchett got back to me:
Yes there has been an investigation into this matter, it has been concluded and the outcome has been reported to AT [Auckland Transport], in fact it was earlier this week that I reported in full to AT. I had also some weeks ago given them a progress update.
Not only did we report the conclusion but we also reported in full how we carried out the investigation. I am however reluctant to allow the findings and knowledge of our investigation methodologies to become public knowledge for a couple of important reasons.

· We wish to protect the identities of innocent people affected.
· Our investigation methods are understandably confidential to us.
· Auckland Transport were the affected party and we don’t think it is our position to speak for them.

But having said that we are happy for you to contact Auckland Transport and ask them for the result of the investigation – they are the Authority and we will be happy with their call on this matter.
So now I have to write to Auckland Transport asking which of the scenarios was true:
- the bus driver pocketed the fare (but the bus company doesn't mind much because it still collects the SGC subsidy from AT)
- the company has a policy of issuing SGC tickets to fare paying passengers (by which defrauding AT)
- the bus driver made a mistake (but the company doesn't really mind because it's not a loss for them, only AT)

And if any of the above scenarios are the case, what is AT's future policy regarding the auditing of SGC ticket issuance?

UPDATE 17 APRIL: Councillor Mike Lee got back to me saying it was a "one-off human error". Which really doesn't negate the pressing issue of the lack of an audit trail in the SGC scheme. I trust the AT management and politicians will get on to that one pronto.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fullers fares to rise for a second time in 6 months

Always the easiest of excuses used by Fullers to "justify" fare rises, the oil price is again used to whack up the fares, for the second time in 6 months. The monthly pass goes from $330 to $350, the highest it has ever been. Adult returns from town are up to $35 but the off-island return stays at $28.
So the squeeze continues unabated and each turn of the screw sees a batch of islanders contemplating moving off Waiheke, students going flatting in town, contractors upping their quotes when you need a town tradesman and a batch of tourists thinking of holidaying elsewhere.
The argument Fullers uses is typical sophistry: whack up the price as soon as the oil price moves upward (of course, never down). The result of this monopolist behaviour is clear for all to see: season tickets have increased by 50% in the last decade while the CPI (the inflation index which includes labour, cost of living and fuel) has moved not nearly as fast.
And all this with the same level of service as 10 years ago (with the same old boats and the same old timetable - the only difference is that the promotions now state it's a 40min trip instead of a 35min one). The only justification for a price hike above inflation is an improvement in service delivery. But the frequent outages due to 'mechanical failure' put Fullers' service reliability way down.

So what of the future? $500 monthly passes? $1,000 ones? Waiheke depopulated like Great Barrier after their boat service became 'uneconomical' (for Fullers)?

UPDATE 3APR: An edited version of the blog item was published as a Letter to the Editor in the Waiheke Gulf News. The Marketplace ignored it.
The Waiheke Island Local Board has set up a Transport Forum and its first meeting will be on Thursday 7 April at 6.30pm at the Ostend Service Centre. The Fullers fare hike will be on the agenda and the C4FFF campaign will make a submission asking the local board to censure Fullers pricing policies as detrimental to the well-being of Waiheke

Friday, March 4, 2011

Waiheke Bus Company and Super Gold Card fares

I have sent the following to the Waiheke Bus Co management for an explanation:

Dear Waiheke Bus Company,

A friend of mine boarded a bus from Matiatia to Surfdale on Wednesday and paid the $3 standard fare. But the bus driver issued her a Super Gold Card (SGC) ticket, even though she is way younger than 65 and doesn’t have a SGC anyway.

Can you please explain which of the following scenarios caused this event:
  1. The bus driver pocketed the fare himself and bus management wasn’t any the wiser because a zero fare ticket was issued and his cash box balanced at the end of his shift – and why would management bother about this as the fare is paid by the Government anyway.
  2. You instruct your drivers to issue SGC tickets to fare paying passengers because it fattens your profit margins: the fare paid, the Government SGC subsidy and of course the Auckland Transport subsidy. All in one push of a button.
  3. The bus driver made a mistake in button pushing – thank god it was in your favour – but we cannot guarantee it won’t happen again because no appropriate audit is in place.
Either of those ways reveals a deep flaw in the SGC system of subsidy because there is no valid audit trail in place to keep an eye on how transport providers issue SGC fare tickets. There is no accounting match between tickets issued and SGCs shown – for all fraudulent intents and purposes a massive amount of SGC travelers could be on your bus in spirit only but you still pocket the subsidy.
Of course I don’t want to single you out, because Fullers Ferries, NZ Bus and all other companies in the scheme could be playing the same game for all we know.

So I am looking forward to your explanation, especially since I have forwarded this also to relevant subsidy-providing authorities. After all, in these times of great need for fiscal rectitude we must ensure the tax and rate dollar is wisely spent but not on self-help corporate welfare.

Yours sincerely,

UPDATE 9 MARCH: No response from the bus company but politicians have been in touch wanting to know more about this. Auckland  Councillor Mike Lee, Nikki Kaye MP and Jacinda Ardern MP are curious.

UPDATE 10 MARCH: A letter from Fullers manager Michael Fitchett:
Thank you for the feedback about your friend’s experience on board one of our bus services. Please ask your friend to contact me to supply us with the relevant details so that we can carry out an investigation. Our normal practice in these events is to conduct a proper examination of the situation and act on the results of it.
We can only assume at this point that the matter was an innocent mistake on the part of our driver, which was one of the possibilities you raised.   Mistakes do happen and in the normal course of events the passenger directly involved would take the matter up with the driver at the time.   You also made the point that a possible explanation for the event might be fraudulent behaviour. Fraud is a serious matter and we have a zero tolerance policy toward it which is why I wish to investigate the allegation.
Throughout our business we have instituted procedures to counter fraudulent use of the SuperGold card use. We instance the fact that passengers who want to travel by ferry must show their Super Gold cards when buying a ticket and again when boarding the ferry. People might find having to show their cards twice an inconvenience but it does demonstrate that we are serious about following the rules to the letter. It is in the interests of everybody that we protect the Super Gold card scheme as it currently stands because it provides great benefits to New Zealanders  over 65 years. 
We have already bought your communication to the notice of the authorities and if you could get your friend to contact us I will be providing Auckland Transport with a report on the incident – which again is standard procedure in these events.
Thank you for passing this information on to us you can assist us by asking your friend to contact me.
I have mailed him the ticket details and he was happy with that for his investigation. The bigger question of the systemic weakness in protecting the taxpayer will need to be addressed by politicians.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Melbourne public transport

Visiting a city for the first time as a tourist, nothing is more important than clear, concise, accurate and omnipresent information about public transport. On my first trip ever to Melbourne, noted and famed for its European atmosphere combined with an Australian easy-going-ness, this is the one aspect it badly failed me. All the integrated ticketing and environmentally friendly trams and trains did not detract from the fact that information about where to go, what lines to use or how to obtain and validate tickets as basically non-existent. It had us asking the (ever so friendly and helpful) tram driver where to buy a ticket and whether to use the validation pods or not. Official information, which I tried to find online, on routes is woefully inadequate. On the tram network diagram all routes have the same colour, and the map must rate as the worst in the world. The train network diagram isn't any better, and worse, at Flinders Street Station, even this map was nowhere to be found on the station concourse or platforms. It made travel really a chore because trains don't stop at all stations, which may make for a bummer journey if you're not careful. This map is actually far better but it is nigh impossible to print out due to its size.
That said, the trams and trains services were excellent in frequency and range. The A$3.70 fare for unlimited 2-hour travel was not too bad (considering the NZ$ is at a decade-low against the A$).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Totally cool

An animated map of Auckland's public transport network from Chris McDowall on Vimeo.

The Waiheke ferry and bus services are clearly distinct and shows how Waiheke lacks proper public transport as the buses are just a feeder service for the ferry.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ferry cancellations

As expected in last night's atrocious weather, some ferries were cancelled. I got a text from Fullers text service at 10:34pm saying the 10:15 sailing to Waiheke was cancelled. A little late notification, no?
Then at 11:10pm a second text came through saying the 11:45pm would sail at midnight. I trust it did.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Fullers Xmas present

A pleasant surprise at the Matiatia ticket counter when the attendant told me the January monthly passes are $300 instead of $330. I queried the reason and she said it was a "Christmas present from Fullers".
The price change was not announced in the media, nor mentioned on Fullers' website. So if you bought 10 or 40-rides for the shortened work month instead of the $330 you budgeted for, you're out of luck. A bit more advance publicity so people can plan their fare spending better would be appreciated - or better: a permanent $300 monthly fare.

UPDATE: An irate commuter who, due to financial reasons, cannot afford a monthly pass and relies on worker's weeklies instead, said she had a go at Fullers staff for not discounting other fares. She said the staff stared at her as if they were cows and she was a train. She nicknamed one of the team members "Napoleon".