Auckland’s harbours are one it’s defining features and correspondingly the phrase “we should make better use of our harbour for transport” is a common refrain we hear in Auckland. Fullers want to deliver that and today have released a report titled Unifying the Hauraki Gulf that appears to have been developed alongside ATEED (Auckland’ Tourism, Events and Economic Development).
Fullers360, the iconic Auckland ferry company, introduces Gulf 2025: a bold plan to encourage greater prioritisation of ferry planning. Gulf 2025 is outlined in Fullers360’s report Unifying the Hauraki Gulf and calls for commercial and public collaboration and investment across the Hauraki Gulf to meet Auckland’s exponential population and visitor growth.
The report details the extensive benefits of ferry travel to Auckland as qualified by New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER): Ferries decrease road traffic congestion, reduce carbon emissions, increase productivity and contribute to the economy, boost tourism spending, and improve social and community connectivity and wellbeing.
Before I delve into the report, a quick history on ferry usage. The annual number of trips taken on ferries in Auckland peaked during WW2 at about 10.6 million trips. Usage declined again in the post war years before plummeting following the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1959. Like with trains, usage reached its lowest point in the early 90’s and fewer than 900k trips were taken at that time. Since then things have improved and new routes added, usage has grown and for the year to the end of October, 6.2 million trips were taken. While we have a number of ferry routes, most of those trips, 4.8 million (77%), took place on just two routes, Devonport and Waiheke. These are the two routes that are currently exempt from control by Auckland Transport and run on a fully commercial basis. Below is a quick graph showing how ridership has changed over the last decade or so.
I find some of the aspects surrounding this report interesting. This includes:
- Auckland Transport are currently developing a new ferry strategy and so this seems to be either trying to compete with or to influence that.
- I understand Auckland Transport recently and unsuccessfully tried to tender out the non-commercial routes. With this report I wonder if there is a bit of game playing here.
- Given the above, it seems odd that one aspect of the council family, ATEED, appear to be deeply involved in lobbying AT.
The report itself basically breaks down the benefits of ferries and puts values around them, both for commuters and tourists. The benefits are summarised on this page.
Where I think the report falls short is that it is primarily staring off the stern and doesn’t give any indication of the future, instead just saying we’ll need more of everything.
The benefits of ferry travel to Auckland are extensive: reduced congestion, lower emissions, increased tourism and a vibrant Gulf community. But this is just the start.
Passenger numbers will grow from six million to nine million by 2025. That’s exciting – but this growth adds increased pressure and complexity. It will require more vessels, more routes, improved wharf infrastructure and much greater collaboration across the Gulf.
So, we have a plan – we’re calling it Gulf 2025. Our ambition is to grow a larger, more effective water transport network that expands commuter offerings and grows the Auckland tourism sector
What is that plan, it’s not shown. Missing are crucial details, such as
- How many more vessels will we need,
- What kinds of vessels will we need i.e. lots of small ones or a few big ones
- Battery powered ferries are starting to become a reality overseas, can that work in Auckland to further reduce emissions and what are the costs of doing this.
- In general, what will costs be in the future.
- If we’re adding a heap of new services and routes, how do they plan for downtown infrastructure to cope.
- A separate section talks about the private sector driving innovation. What innovation is actually being proposed other than more of the same?
About the closest we get to any kind of plan is this map which has a heap of questions of its own. Examples include
- It appears they’re suggesting a commuter route to Takapuna via Shoal Bay, how would that even work?
- Ferries from Panmure and Point England to Half Moon Bay. Why would anyone do that, especially from Panmure when in the not too distant future the busway and bus lanes could make buses much faster and more reliable.
- Same goes for Te Atatu where current plans will see a fast trip to town possible on the light rail line that’s being planned.
Overall I’m left with the impression this is case of Fullers pushing for greater public investment for their benefit. Perhaps a condition of more investment in ferries is that they give up their commercial commuter routes and let them be contracted by AT like every other PT service in Auckland. That could help allow better integration a part of a proper PT network.