4 Jul 2023

Fullers raises peak-hour return ticket prices for Waiheke Island amid fury

7:10 am on 4 July 2023
A Fullers ferry leaving the Auckland Ferry Terminal

The SeaLink car ferries and Fullers passenger ferries are outside of public transport legislation, which means there is no subsidy, says Waiheke Local Board member Paul Walden. (file image) Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Fullers passengers are now paying up to $59 for a return ticket to Waiheke Island after a 19 percent price increase came into effect over the weekend.

That is the walk-up price for a standard return ticket for an adult during peak hours, which can be bought online for $4 cheaper.

Fullers passengers can also opt for other tickets like a monthly pass, which allows the holder to have unlimited travel to and from the island for one month at a cost of $403 for an adult and $293 for tertiary students, as well as free bus travel on the island itself.

But the island's residents told First Up they were upset by the service because cancellations and delays over summer had wreaked havoc.

Waiheke newspaper Gulf News editor Liz Waters said her patience with the ferry service was wearing thin.

"We're so angry with Fullers after the last few summers. The unmanageable pushing of queues at the wharfs ... even in the worst old days when it was a bunch of harbour ferries left over from the Second World War, it was more reliable than it has been for the last few years. They've been near riots on the Wharf," Waters said.

Waiheke newspaper Gulf News editor Liz Waters.

Waiheke newspaper Gulf News editor Liz Waters. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

"This isn't just the last five minutes. This is the end result of huge community concern over 10 years."

Oneroa Village double shot cafe barista Nââwié Tutugoro commuted on the ferries through high school and university.

Tutugoro said the fare hikes were noticeable.

"As the prices increase, I'm starting to feel the weight of it. They've gone up recently like 20 percent or something. So that was an adult going up like $6 or $7.

"Over time that sort of builds up and everything else is so expensive, so it's like you kind of end up being bound to the island or having to budget in a different way where you lose out on other things, because you're trying to get to these important appointments in the city."

Waiheke Local Board member Paul Walden.

Waiheke Local Board member Paul Walden. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

Waiheke Local Board member Paul Walden, who has lived on the island for 40 years, said the SeaLink car ferries and Fullers passenger ferries were outside of public transport legislation, which meant there was no subsidy.

The reason for this was to allow for competition, something Walden said did not exist.

"What we've seen historically is competing ferry services have endeavoured to compete against SeaLink and its predecessors, and also Fullers. They've all exited the market with very clear statements around these anti-competitive type practices."

Walden said the lack of regulation created an intergenerational cost for Waiheke residents and others across the Gulf.

He believed there was an underlying detachment between the company and the community.

"Fullers ferry company is owned by a billionaire in Scotland, so we see a lot of wealth coming out of our communities, and I think that's really what hurts the most.

"There's quite a significant disconnect between where the revenue is going that's generated off the ferry service, and there's not this compassionate connection that we've had historically."

Fullers chief executive Mike Horne

Fullers360 chief executive Mike Horne says cheaper commuter tickets for regular travellers have not changed in price. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

However, Fullers360 chief executive Mike Horne said their contribution to the island had been significant.

"We're a company that has invested in assets, supported the island over many years, and keep fronting up and delivering services day in, day out. So in actual fact, I think what we provide based on the investment, training, [and] the expertise is a really, really good economic driver for Waiheke."

The cheaper commuter tickets for regular travellers had not changed in price, Horne said.

Retiree Rob, who had been living on the island since 1988, had a gold card which allowed him free ferry rides at certain times, which he recently used to head back and forth between Waiheke and the city for hospital visits.

He said it would be tough on people without access to the free travel.

"If you're going every day, like I did for radiation treatment for a month, five days a week sort of thing, that would be pretty tough. They have to help them out somehow."

Horne said the company had worked hard to keep prices down in the face of inflation.

"We all know that all costs are going up across the board, whether it be food or essentials or travel or whatever else. All of those costs are affecting us as a business as well.

"So what we've been able to do for residents is actually hold down any increase to them through that time."

But Tutugoro said they wanted more transparency from the company.

"We want Fullers to actually open their books and show us where the money is actually going.

"You know they're claiming a lot of losses during the pandemic and during Covid times, but also remembering that they're a privately-owned company.

"How do we continue relying on the service when it's like basically unaffordable for a lot of people?"

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