Adding insult to injury, as one of my fellow commuters put it succinctly, Fullers ferries is having another season of engine breakdowns, shoddy service and a general Winter of discontent among its customers. It doesn't seem to be enough for them to announce extraordinary inflated price rises, but to reduce the service to a slow trickle akin to water torture.
Last night the hordes waiting for the 6.30pm had a sinking feeling all was not well, what with the Jet Raider already out of action for over a week, and now the Discoverer laid up with engine trouble too. It was left to that dinky toy, Quickcat II, to do a major commuter run and it chugged into port already 10 minutes late. The hardworking Fullers tannoy announcer (almost as hardworking as the Fullers ferry delay/cancellation text information disseminator) tried to assure us it would only be five minutes - but we all know what Fullers' definition of 5 minutes is: it's comparable to its claim the journey time to Waiheke is 35 minutes, but not many boats have actually achieved that claim without blowing a gasket.
So we all filed onto the Quickcat II (it always reminds me of live sheep shipments) to be squashed together and with knowledge that not everybody would be able to board. Packed to the rafters and all set to go, the captain informed us that we would not be leaving until St John's Ambulance staff had picked up a patient off the boat, who had been lying in sick bay when everybody got on. And the ambulance wasn't turning up soon.
Meanwhile the Superflyte was arriving back from Waiheke - as if it was lapping the Quickcat II in a cycle race. Now the captain informed us that Superflyte would be leaving at 7.15pm and would make it to Waiheke far faster than his toy boat could. So the hordes disembarked to change boats, filing past the mortified patient again, who I hope didn't think it was his fault he inconvenienced those 200 people.
So my commuting time last night from work to home took three hours. No apology from Fullers on Superflyte, not even a discounted drink on board. Surely Fullers is an odds-on favourite for worst customer service company in New Zealand.
After a flurry of press activity on and off-island (with a promise of article in the next Herald on Sunday to come), the rock dwellers are now looking at what more direct action to take when the fare hikes bite come Monday. We've been asked to wear black to mourn the death of diversity on Waiheke by all that economic cleansing, and a symbolic coffin will be carried.
I've added my $44 worth:
- Boycott the ferry cafes longterm. They've pocketed your $44 drinks budget already in the monthly pass price rise
- Ask the ARC/ARTA to cancel the alcohol purchase restrictions and replace their on-board licences with BYO licences. If you can bring your coffee on board, why not your own beer?
- Ask the Commerce Commission to launch an inquiry into the monopolistic and anti-competitive practices by Fullers/Stagecoach/Infratil, looking at the barriers for a competitive service on the Waiheke ferry service, and the dereliction of duty by ARTA/ARC when they allowed Fullers to buy Pacific Ferries.
- Ask the ARC/ARTA to call for tenders for a competitive service, including integrated ticketing on buses to prevent level field distortions
- Ask the ARC/ARTNL/ACC to refund the $20 a month wharf charge to passengers, which is now being pocketed by Fullers. No wharf charges should be imposed especially as third world conditions on Pier 2 persist. Wharves should be funded from general infrastructure investment (as trains stations and bus stops are), not from a departure tax. (And since Waiheke passengers paid for all the Auckland region wharves, can we now assume proper ownership of them too, so we can set our own charges for use)
UPDATE: Fullers are now allowing pass holders to purchase the September pass at the August price.
UPDATE: Popular protest at the ferry terminals over the price rises previewed. More background news article.