28 May 2020

'Animal behaviour' in ferry queue sparks police complaints

10:46 am on 28 May 2020

Waiheke Island residents fed up with a lack of social distancing on ferries and at the wharves have complained to the police and local politicians.

A Fullers ferry docked at the Auckland Ferry Terminal before leaving for Waiheke

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Ferry company Fullers reduced sailings to an hourly service during level four restrictions and halved the number of passengers allowed on board, marking available seats.

Local board chair Cath Handley said despite those measures rush hour was a problem and causing anxiety among some passengers.

"They've taken their concerns to a number of places, social media is the instant one but they have also written to politicans made complaints to local board members and gone to the police in some instances."

Handley said people were queueing apart but crowding to board the ferries and sometimes standing in aisles rather than outside.

"There's a kind of crowd animal behaviour where people suddenly surge to get on a ferry or to get off it and they drop their guard and start behaving like they always have so there have been complaints that authorities should be managing those situations better," she said.

"That's probably heigtened people's anxieties when they see people that close to them. A significant proportion of people, and I think rightly so, get distressed at the lack of social distancing in other people.

The local board has asked Auckland Transport and Fullers to monitor and enforce social distancing rules, and increase ferry sailings during rush hours.

Fullers services to and from Waiheke and Devonport are exempt from Auckland Transport's Public Transport Operating Model, meaning the company can base its services on profitability rather than the needs of public transport users. This exemption is under reivew.

"It's clearly not economic for them to be running a ferry every half an hour at the moment however it is necesarry to be doing it for public transport reasons," Handley said.

But sailings won't increase for another two weeks.

In a statement, Fullers chief executive Mike Horne said the company has worked closely with the Waiheke Local Board to provide a lifeline service for residents on the island.

He said additional ferries would be added to the timetable during rush hour from 8 June, with Monday to Friday sailings from Waiheke at 7.30am and 8.30am and a 10.15pm sailing to Waiheke.

To support commuters getting home and visitors to the island, Fullers will add a 3.30pm and 4.30pm sailing to Waiheke on Fridays only.

Horne said the company is working with Auckland Transport to manage on-wharf physical distancing guidelines and there is clearly marked signage on board vessels while crew observe and remind passengers to follow the guidelines.

"Following physical distancing guidelines requires collaboration and ultimately, we ask passengers to take personal responsibility for following the clearly marked stickers on the wharves and our vessels," he said.

Last year, Waiheke residents expressed frustration at lengthy delays and cancelled sailings on the ferries, their only transport to the mainland.