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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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78 comments

  1. This feels pretty ridiculous. Fullers own tourists services are frequently facilitated by transport ferries.

    Also, didn’t NZTA rule out a bike ferry or bike bus as part of the northern pathway report?

      1. There was a bus route back in about 1981?? There was an old bus with a helpful driver that would deliver bikes over the bridge. I committed from Parnell to Glenfield at the time and used it infrequently. It was never ideal, but better than no bike route at all. I do recall spending wet days shivering in the bus instead of riding through the rain.

      2. SOLUTION. A private individual can purchase an old transit van and a trailer, and get into the bike-transit business. However you can expect that the precious cyclists will complain that their fancy bikes are getting scratched!

        1. What did people using the sustainable, healthy, affordable travel mode of biking ever do to you?

        2. How can you claim an ebike is sustainable when 30% of its power comes from fossil fuel (including coal).
          Cyclists have multiple ways to cross the harbour. Ferries from Devonport, Northcote and Birkenhead as well as a bridge between Greenhithe and Hobsonville.
          If only vehicles had as many options.

        3. Ah yes, people complaining about how ebikes are unsustainable (you got your stats wrong, and you would be surprised about e-cars, or, huh, petrol cars…) And about how “the market” and “the bike riders” should fix the issue if they want it fixed so much. After decades of absolutely ginormous tax (not fuel tax – general tax) subsidies for cars slanting the system in favour of fossil fuel burners. The Status Quo is always god-given / natural law, and any change that doesn’t somehow magically happen of itself is evil, wasteful social engineering.

  2. I am always completely underwhelmed by the excuse of a lack of skilled labour. It is not that I don’t believe that there is a certain amount of skill required, it is that, they are incapable of training someone to do the job.

    1. IKR, they won’t even train the young who might want to pursue into the industry. Also we have the youth employment rate is 3 time higher than the overall employment rate and are struggling to get into entry level jobs cause there all drying up.

    2. This. There are plenty of people capable enough to operate a ferry. Fullers just doesn’t want to pay to train them or pay them enough to make it appealing.

      1. Practically what it is that there too lazy and have I can’t be bothered attitude “cause I’m too busy” in reality there not so busy after all. They probably don’t want to pay for training too cause its too much of an “expensive expense” to pay off.

        1. “Practically what it is that there too lazy and have I can’t be bothered attitude “cause I’m too busy” in reality there not so busy after all. They probably don’t want to pay for training too cause its too much of an “expensive expense” to pay off.”

          Spot on criticism of Fullers.

  3. Many of Fullers vessels are unsuitable for the commuter routes they get assigned to: single gangway and little or no provision for bicycles.
    Was glad I don’t have an e bike when (on return from Waiheke) had to carry my bike up steep stairs from the lower deck we boarded on to disembark at Devonport

  4. When are we ever going to see a ferry terminal built at Takapuna, Milford, Mairangi Bay or even Browns Bay?

    1. Kinda wished that AT pressed ahead with Browns Bay, really getting sick of long commute to the city and having to transfer every now and again.

        1. Certainly not true, it would take 40 mins for sure if it existed now, would of thought you’d known that by now, since you’re a sailor!

        1. If you go during the morning during weekdays, boy you in for a ride and even heading back during the evening is the same too. Takes me proximity an hour and half if ferry exist right now, the ferry would take roughly 40 mins.

        2. Is it traffic on the browns bay end before getting to the busway / getting back from the busway thats the issue?

        3. @Jack, you’re stuck in traffic along East Coast Road, Constellation Drive, SH1 and some bits of Fanshawe ST

    2. Takapuna and Milford would be quicker by bus.

      I understand the issue with Browns Bay was that at least a 200m pier would be required, notwithstanding some pretty vocal opposition to opening up commuting to “their” quiet beach.

      1. “Quiet beach”, you always have boats going off the ramp and onto the beach to be floated into the sea along have their loud guzzling engines firing up, it can be heard all the way from the other side of the beach.

      2. “Quiet beach”, you always have boats going off the ramp and onto the beach to be floated into the sea along have their loud guzzling engines firing up, it can be heard all the way from the other side of the beach.

  5. Probably never at this rate, given the government too slow to invest in more transport infrastructure projects and giving not much hope.

    1. Agreed! They need to invest in more transport infrastructure in Auckland, were lacking in quite a lot of things.

  6. Just wait until omicron breaks out of an Auckland MIQ. To date all the reduced patronage has been largely a result of Government shut downs with a fast bounce back. The overall economy has hardly taken much of a hit. With omicron we can expect large numbers of people to vote with their feet and give up public transport altogether. Add to that the cancellations due to drivers being sick. There can be no reasonable expectation of more riders this year than last.

  7. The labour shortage is also evident in the PT bus market, the Christchurch fleet is running a reduced timetable,because of driver shortages,Wellington’s issues have been well aired. The Auckland market will show a huge deficit of drivers,if/when they return to normal timetable, with no immigration for the foreseeable future,it would seem the best /only solution is increased wages,to entice people into the industry. Fuller’s say they are training and upskilling staff, after relying on immigration to solve there staffing issues.
    The power currently lies with the worker’s, (drivers,distribution,hospitality, retail,nurses,etc),some revised thinking on pay rates,is needed.
    Note there is hardly any mention nowadays on minimum wage, offering that gets no applicants.

    1. Yes you can thank the employers of the bus companies for the delays, unwilling to train up local talent and unwilling to make a pathway for particularly for younger people (without licenses) too so they can enter these roles.

      1. A story in other industries too.

        Massive shortage of intermediate / senior developers. Massive competition / glut of compsci grads competing for a very limited set of jobs out of uni.

        Companies winging “we just cant hire anyone, please open the borders”, simultaneously refusing to train hardly anyone. I have very little sympathy.

        1. According to Dr David Dyason, who’s a professor and researcher at Lincoln University.

          He stated that the workforce gap (of those retiring or leaving the workforce and new workers entering) is expected to increase annually and the initial gap would require net inward migration of the working-age population to average at least 10,000 per year, from national or international sources.

          “However, with regards to the international movement of people (for work and/or migration), border controls and exclusions have substantially lowered New Zealand’s labour intake.

          “Much of the workforce for the next couple of years could be sourced locally, however, the long-term demand for jobs would require sourcing labour from outside the region,” Dr Dyason said.

          “Migration is seen as an important source of population and workforce to replace retirements and support the growing economy. This migration is initially likely to be driven by internal migration within New Zealand and between regions, while international migration is seen as the long-term solution.

          “Without significant changes in productivity or natural population growth, regions and countries that historically relied on immigration to support the economy are likely to continue to rely on migration as a labour source.

          “Competition among industries to source students, both in high school and the university is expected to increase as the labour supply tighten. This has further implications on wage and salary increases which is again affecting inflation.”

          I imagine that Auckland will need at least 3 or more times more migrants in the country to fill these gaps.

    2. If you had to be honest, $24 wage at AT as a bus driver isn’t enough, especially if you live in Auckland, definitely can see why where seeing not many people wanting to work in these roles. It’s not enough to keep up with rising inflation levels and let alone the ability for you to be able to save up for electrical appliances, paying for new car or incase of weather emergency.

  8. re ” Now, the Government has agreed to direct $150m of the project’s original $785m..”

    can we just skip the $150m for ferries for bikes, and jump to the ” we dont think its a practical option” outcome, saving us lots of posts, replies, and the inevitable non-delivery…

    PS GA team – great forum – but you (we) dont seem to make a difference.
    Our Auckland and Wellington Governance teams appear to not care, or notice the wisdom and prescience on these pages.

    Less analysis – more advocacy !! or it will be 2032 and we’ll still be talking about getting across our harbour bridge.

    1. Not just the governance teams, either. We’ve got a problem with public servants, in both central and local government, failing to serve the public. There’s a lack of will to challenge their leaders about the regressive instructions they’ve been given.

      A lot of this unwillingness is blamed on the “conservatism” of public servants, but in fact, it’s due to some insidious myths on the topic of “social license”.

      It doesn’t seem to matter
      – what the legislation says (and legislation, though imperfect, is written in a democratic process),
      – what kind of a civic discussion has already been had on the topic,
      – how much quality research is done, and even incorporated into plans and documents, and even consulted upon and liked,
      – how much best practice engagement and consultation is used.

      “Social license”, as interpreted by our public servants when they’re discussing details with elected officials and stakeholders, comes down to nothing more than talkback reckons and the level of call centre complaints about parking issues.

      Here are the rules.

      Rule 1: Thou shalt not change anything, because there’s no social license.
      Rule 2: Thou shalt not suggest social license exists, because even if it did exist, it wouldn’t hold up under pressure.
      Rule 3: Thou shalt not include past consultation and civic discussion, that culminated in strategies and plans, as social license, if it involves change. See Rule 1.
      Rule 4: Therefore, thou shalt not uphold the existing progressive strategies. To be clear, there is no social license for change.
      Rule 5: Thou shalt not attempt to deliver change faster in order to deliver benefits faster and thus reduce the problems of pressure on “transient” social license. See Rule 1.
      Rule 6: Thou shalt not suggest core legislative requirements have precedent over Rule 1.
      Rule 7: Thou shalt not expect public servants to speak of change as possible. Even if their data clearly indicates social license, their job is to lower expectations for change.
      Rule 8: Thou shalt not be grumpy about this. There are “tensions” that you cannot understand.

      1. Long comment here, sorry. I think the lack of performance in the public service (and Fullers) is due to nobody being held to account which stifles risk taking and dulls performance. Yes, there is risk in taking on new staff and training them and it has to be done.
        The classic explanation of the failure to hold to account is given by Thomas Ricks with reference to US Army Generals since WWII.

        Ricks’s theory is that during WW2, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had no compunction about relieving from command Generals who did not accomplish their missions. Marshall was so serious about it that he in fact relieved a couple of Generals who did achieve their mission, but either took too long or lost too many men in the effort. Generals who were relieved were not necessarily demoted, and in fact many later were given other similar commands, once Marshall believed they were ready to succeed.

        Ricks then compares those efforts to US generalship in wars since, and finds that Generals were not relieved, despite clearly not accomplishing their missions. There had become a culture of tolerance for failure.

        And Ricks makes a brilliant point: when nobody gets fired, nobody takes risks. It feels counterintuitive, but it’s true: if you don’t have to take risks (and battle commanders most certainly do) to keep your job, you don’t take risks.

        Time to fire Fullers and those who support them for their lack of taking a risk on new staff.

      2. Heidi commandments come it sets of 10 and the first is always a membership rule or never question us rule, so you would need to move all yours down one and add a new rule 1- Thou shalt not question or doubt Waka Kotahi.
        For the tenth just add in my favourite one- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ox. (I have made this a person rule to live by!)

    2. GA at least made a difference to the transport ministers wardrobe!
      https://twitter.com/michaelwoodnz/status/1436523636425310210?s=20

      In all seriousness, I genuinely believe that GA can have pretty large influence over stuff. Not so much crushing victories, but hearts and minds, thoughts in heads. Lots of little changes. Steering the discourse.

      Another small example: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/jack-gibbons-8063aa154_an-onewa-interchange-greater-auckland-activity-6830809771491368960-O_of
      The comment from Anthony Blom tagging Peter Moth. Both reasonable names in AT.

  9. But we don’t want dedicated ferries or buses to shuttle bikes between Northcote Point/Birkenhead and the city. The problem is misunderstood, and we risk wasting huge amounts of money here and not achieving anyone’s goals. It’s not just a ‘transport mode’ question about crossing the harbour that can be addressed by substituting other options. It is the ability to experience crossing the bridge under your own power for work or recreation, to stop and look at the view, to not be reliant on cars or others to get around. I find it hard to believe, after all the due diligence put in by various parties over the years, that there isn’t an option to allow this that sits somewhere between the original Skypath and Whaka Kotahi’s fanciful over-engineered extra lane.

      1. It’s a bit like a building owner,saying “l won’t put in a limited mobility access ramp,just ring the bell,and our staff will lift you in”. It wouldn’t get past go. If a bus/ferry option is proposed, it needs to be run past the Human rights commission.

      2. There is simply not enough demand to close one lane of the harbour bridge so that 28 cyclists can use it each day. If there is such pent up demand for a way to cross the harbour with a bike why has a private operator not stepped in to provide the service. Essentially what we have is a few blow hard cyclist who expect taxpayers to fund their mode of transport so they can get around town for free.

        1. Because the bridge is publicly owned and funded. A private outfit did want to add the cycle lanes to it but they got kyboshed by NZTA.

      3. If you were to close to 3 lanes each for all commuter transport, then you’ll have a problem during peak hrs, you’ll face more clogged up traffic everyday and will have a longer journey to the CBD.

  10. For reference, here are Fullers’ current vacancies:
    https://www.fullers.co.nz/careers/current-vacancies/

    There is plenty of entry-level work around at the moment, with lesser demands. Check out the hours, etc.: https://fullersgroup.bamboohr.com/jobs/view.php?id=213. 4.30am to 2am (in rotating shifts) including weekends and holidays. Plus some significant responsibility and skills. You’d have to pay a lot and offer good career progression for that to be more attractive than other options. Anyone know if that’s actually the case?

    1. Why would you want to work for a company that pays its staff poorly, over works you , bullies you and doesn’t maintain it’s vessels.??

    2. Yeah that isn’t exactly attractive particularly for a young person since they are expected to work for 5 days a week with only 2 days off.

  11. I’m curious, does anyone know what the penalty is for Fullers when they fail to meet their service obligations?

    Because they would certainly have made a calculation and arrived at a business decision, and that calculation might need to have one of the negative numbers be a little higher in the future so that their level of pain matches their customers’ level.

    1. I imagine it has little to do with staff and more to do with low Covid demand. Running mostly empty ferries all day doesn’t sound that profitable, the penalty is probably worth it to them.

      1. Private companies can no longer act like private companies when they’re legally bound to act in the public interest… but they REALLY SUPER-DUPER WANT TO because the financial bottom line is the only language they speak.

        Sufficiently high penalties translate this obligation into dollars-and-cents language, and that doesn’t appear to be translating strongly enough in this case to prevent a private company from saying, “might be time for a long swim” to people who need to get somewhere but aren’t in a large enough crowd.

        1. The only problem being we could find ourselves in a situation where there is just noone else to do it. We crush fullers, where to turn to? The council isn’t allowed to just do it themselves.

        2. @Jack: Is there some kind of legislation that mandates that only private companies can provide ferry services in Auckland? I’m not sure what exactly is putting Fullers, who are heavily-invested in ferries, in a strong position here.

        3. I think you have solved your own conundrum Logan. Why do Fullers run all the ferry services? Because they own all the ferries! Why don’t other people run the ferries? Because they don’t own the ferries…. Ferries are expensive beasts to buy and to run, and no one just keeps a few around on the off chance that they may win a ferry contract. Drivers/pilots are the relatively easy part of the equation – people jump ship all the time, so to speak. But ferries are way more expensive than buses. Harder to do.

        4. Logan, Fullers have a specially protected grandfathered contract to run the Devonport and Waiheke ferry lines as fully private profit routes. Those two route make up the majority of ferry service, passengers and revenue, and the only ones that earn positive revenue. The rest are, to be frank, tin pot lines that lose money hand over fist, so they’re hugely subsidised.

          So no other operator can take on those routes, and no other route is worthwhile for an entrant.

          You have Steven Joyce to thank for this, in a fit of free market brainfart he excluded the profitable routes from the PTOM system, ensuring that no other ferry operator could ever compete with the incumbent.

          The only fix is to bring all the ferry routes into PTOM so that operators can compete evenly, like they do with buses, or for AT to own the ferries (like they do the trains) which would allow other entrants to bid for operating contracts. AT has tried to make these changes but obviously Fullers like their government mandated monopoly on profit so have pulled every string they can to perpetuate it.

        5. Riccardo. There is no ‘contract’ to run the Waiheke and Devonport services. To have a contract, grandfathered or otherwise, who is this contract with?

        6. There was, and still is in this case, a contract to be a commercial public transport provider before PTOM was brought in. But it covers minimal basic regulatory stuff. It’s not a service contract like the current ones, doesn’t require them to actually meet timetables, standards etc like the rest.

          The contract is with AT, as the inheritor of the regional council’s transport responsibilities.

        7. Oh and I probably wasn’t clear but that contract means as long as fullers runs either route as a commercial service, AT is forbidden from subsidizing anyone else to run ferries on the same routes.

        8. Ricardo. Where this contract be viewed? The legislation that excludes Fullers from PTOM on two routes was lobbied for by Fullers, Sealink and what is now Skybus to protect their cash cow virtual monopoly services. There is little to no control of the excluded services by AT with the operators deciding on the timetables as they see fit. Yes AT own the berths and apparently allocate them as needed but that is about it.

    2. A slap on the wrist with a wet ferry ticket.

      It would be a wet AT hop card but they successfully stonewalled that being used in ferries.

      1. Don’t forget to keep your hop card dry, it will start to loose its durability and snap into small pieces, you’ll have to buy a new card.

  12. There were only 3 ferries to Waiheke that were cancelled yesterday 1 in the morning 8am from the island and 2 late afternoon/early evening .

    1. The cancelled Waiheke services are commuter sailings with reasonable passenger numbers. Instead heavier loadings will occur on the remaining ferries. So much for social distancing for the customers that Fullers say the safety of is so important. Superspreading omicron here we come.

  13. My cousin used to be a Fullers captain.

    They are out the door by 5am each day to start, and work like bastards for not much.

    Heading for 2.9% unemployment level, they are only going to work such stupid hours for a real salary.

    1. From what I have read elsewhere you have hit the nail on the head Ad. As more leave the conditions get worse so more leave…
      A downward spiral previously propped up by imported skills. A employer that truly values their staff doesn’t have a retention problem.

      1. Their probably going to end up in the same fate as NZ BUS in Wellington where everyone all the employees protest for better wages and conditions but still face issues with employing more people.

    2. Were actually supposedly projected to hit 3.1 unemployment, according to Jacinda, but guess we’ll find out at Feb 2nd.

  14. Time for some good news on ferries, and we might have to head you all to Wellington for that. The East by West Ferry company that travels between Wellington and Eastbourne, has just put the new electric ferry into service – the Ika Rere. Completely quiet and very smooth, its a large cat and looks great – I haven’t been on it yet, but it was at the wharf yesterday and the charging system is tied in to the wharf so it can readily recharge when needed. There’s no Fullers down here in Wellington, and East-West is a much smaller entity, but they have set up a subsidiary called the Wellington Electric Boat Building Company, so no doubt they would be happy to build some for Aucklanders as well. https://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=141517

      1. Excellent news, thanks Moooom. Is there a news article or somewhere where I can read more about the details of that deal?

    1. Those that have seen/experienced competitors in the virtual monopoly space Fullers (and Sealink) operate in know that attempting to encroach in the cash cow routes is doomed to failure.

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