As we emerge from the last four months of COVID restrictions it is reasonable to expect we’ll see public transport start use recover – assuming we don’t see further lockdowns or restrictions. While it could take years to get back to pre-pandemic levels of usage, prior to lockdown in August we had seen public transport use sitting at around 75% of those pre-pandemic levels and so that’s likely a useful target to aim for this year. Note, 75% of pre-pandemic levels is typically round 250k-300k trips per weekday.
Key to achieving that is going to be Auckland Transport ensuring public transport is reliable. And on that, the ferries are off to a bad start.
Some Auckland ferry services are being cancelled through to March as staff shortages hit the start of the 2022 commuting season.
Fullers360 said 15 services a day were cancelled from January 10. Among them were services to Waiheke Island, Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay.
Nine of the cancellations – seven on the Gulf Harbour route and two serving Half Moon Bay – are contracted as public transport services to Auckland Transport.
“This is a last resort decision and one we are regrettably making,” Fullers360, which is replacing the contracted sailings with bus services, said.
The cancellations signal a return to disruptions which first emerged in mid-2021, when the ferry operator blamed the skill shortages on Covid-19 border closures.
“The decision is reflective of the talent shortfall we and our industry peers are facing,” Fullers360 said.
“The talent shortage comes at a significant cost to our business and at a time when we want to be maximising the peak summer period to support the recovery of local economies, and our own business after providing more than four months of restricted essential services.”
The company said the talent shortage was an industry-wide crisis, and that it would work with our fellow ferry operators, industry leaders and local and central government to advocate for “strategies that create sustainable solutions.”
Every time stuff like this happens, whether it be on buses, trains or ferries, it helps to undermine the public’s confidence of public transport. It also raises some questions for me:
- Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are talking about investing $122 million in six or seven low emission ferries as well as supporting infrastructure. What reassurances are there that we wont see these kinds of issues persist into the future?
- What ever happened to the review into fullers having an exemption to run the Devonport and Waiheke ferries commercially instead of bringing them under Auckland Transport control? Back in 2019 a series of cancelations and poor service prompted the council to ask for a review into it. Then Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the review would be complete by the end of 2020. However that was put on hold after COVID struck with no new timeframe set.
- During the Christmas/New Year break it was revealed the latest plan for cyclists to cross the harbour, a new dedicated ferry.
Now, the Government has agreed to direct $150m of the project’s original $785m budget to cover sunk costs and conduct further work to get a ferry or bus shuttle service up and running.
Cabinet papers released on Christmas Eve show the Government re-considered the proposed Northern Pathway investment and agreed that the money set aside for the project should go towards a mix of alternative transport projects that better supported emission reduction targets, including a much cheaper Waitematā bike crossing.
It acknowledged that a walking and cycling link across the Waitematā was critical to “multiplying the benefits” of the walking and cycling investment in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland to date.
Alternative options for cyclists to cross the Waitematā Harbour that could be implemented in the short term were a dedicated ferry service or bike bus, the paper said.
Waka Kotahi has previously investigated a dedicated ferry service operating 6am to 12am daily on a 15-minute frequency from Northcote to Wynyard or a dedicated bus operating from 6am to 12am daily on a 10-minute frequency from Stafford to Westhaven.
A ministerial briefing note from May last year said the ferry option would cost $58m to deliver and cost $6m a year to operate.
How can we plan to run additional ferries when we can’t even run the ones we have now? Furthermore, what happens if issues like this arise in the future, could cyclists end up stranded by cancelled services. As it is, a bus or ferry is a very poor substitute for a dedicated crossing or a lane or two on the existing bridge, especially as users will likely have pay to use it. Ferries and buses also have issue of not being able to cope with demand a peak times, as we’ve seen even before.