4 Jul 2023

Green MP demands answers from government about Waiheke Island ferry fares

8:55 pm on 4 July 2023
Chloe Swarbrick

Green Party MP for Auckland Central Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

It is time "to get on with it" and bring the Waiheke ferry service under the public transport model to make it more affordable for commuters, the Greens' Chlöe Swarbrick says.

Swarbrick represents Auckland Central, which Waiheke Island falls under, and has written to the newly appointed Transport Minister David Parker for an explanation.

It comes after a price hike came into effect at the weekend, meaning passengers are now paying $59 for a return ticket.

Other public transport is subsidised - but Fullers has a carve out to run on a purely commercial basis to Waiheke Island.

Swarbrick said it had been "far too long" that the service had remained unregulated and unsubsidised as all other public transport across the country was.

She told Checkpoint the fare was "incredibly expensive" and claimed it was "arguably" one of the most expensive routes in the world when looking at comparable routes.

What should have happened years ago, she said, was bringing it under the public transport operating model.

Swarbrick said it was something the government could do "overnight" if it wanted but there was concern the government could be sued so it needed to ensure everything was in order before any change was made.

"This is a power which Auckland Transport actually asked the former minister of transport Phil Twyford for back in 2019. We managed to finally get commitment from the Honourable Michael Wood back in June of 2022 after again, a substantial amount of work and lobbying...

"We were told at that point in time that it would take approximately six months to begin this ordering council process ... I've been asking and OIA'ing for the advice that has been commissioned and was told that that advice would be put on Waka Kotahi's website at the end of June. Obviously we are now in July and we're still without that information."

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

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Swarbrick said the government's hesitancy was why she had been asking for a constant 'please explain' and for transparency. It was the "very least" her constituents deserved from decision makers who had "let them down" for 10 years, she said.

Despite the challenges and price increases in recent years, Swarbrick said she had a good working relationship with Fullers.

"What they are saying to me as well is that they want some clarity on what the government is going to do here because without that, they can't even make commercial investment decisions, so all roads really lead back to the government doing this."

Swarbrick could not give a number which she believed would be a fair price when asked but said with transparency and opening the books, a fair price could be calculated.

"It's time to get on with something that is far more affordable for my constituents."

Fullers360 chief executive Mike Horne earlier told RNZ 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."

The former minister Michael Wood confirmed his frustrations to reporters in June 2022.

"I've run out of patience and I believe it's an appropriate time to start this process," he said.

It would take some time, but the government was determined to get a better result for Waiheke commuters, he said at the time.

"First there has to be work that is done through Waka Kotahi to communicate with Auckland Transport as the local authority to understand what the particular needs in the region is and whether it's justified that the service be brought into the public transport network."

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