Like every other form of public transport in Auckland over the last year and a half, ferry users have had to deal with unreliability. As with buses, the issue has been a lack of staff – and filling those roles has been harder as they weren’t covered by the same immigration setting changes that helped fix the bus driver shortage, plus it takes longer to train people to fill those roles. As of AT’s June board report, they were short around 25 crew, an improvement on the 36 they were short in February.

Now it appears the fix to for the ferries is going to cause even more disruption for some.

When AT announced last week that the bus driver shortage was officially over, they said some ferry changes were coming. On Thursday, they revealed this included fully cancelling some ferry routes:

From Sunday 1 October there will be changes to Auckland Transport’s ferry services and timetables to allow for Fullers360 to start an accelerated ferry crew training programme.

Ferry services to Birkenhead, Te Onewa Northcote Point, and Bayswater will no longer be operated by Fullers360, with reduced timetables put in place for the Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay routes.

Auckland Transport Executive General Manager Public Transport Services Stacey van der Putten says AT is committed to providing supporting services for these affected ferry services.

“AT’s focus is minimising the impact of these changes for customers, which is why we’re working at pace to explore options for an alternative ferry operator to run some services on the Birkenhead, Te Onewa Northcote Point and Bayswater routes,” Ms van der Putten says.

“The ongoing shortage of qualified ferry crew means it is not possible to reliably run AT’s full ferry network and to train meaningful numbers of new ferry crew members at the same time.

“While these changes will be disappointing for affected communities, the training programme will ultimately help to improve the reliability of timetabled ferry services across Auckland, during training, while building resilience in the workforce for when full services resume”..

“Our teams are exploring options for additional bus services to complement the existing bus routes serving customers travelling from Birkenhead, Te Onewa Northcote Point, and Bayswater, as well as customers travelling off-peak from Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay.”

Fullers360 CEO Mike Horne says the accelerated training programme will improve the available qualified crewing workforce for Fullers360 as crew are fast tracked through qualifications and vessel sign offs.

“We have long signalled there is no quick fix to resolving the maritime skills shortage that has impacted Fullers360,” Mr Horne says.

“With support from Auckland Transport to redistribute our resources to accelerate training and development, we will be able to progress up to 30 qualified crew to either Deckhand or Skipper in the next 14 – 18 months. These numbers are significant in helping us to achieve a full crewing workforce at a faster pace.”

Mr Horne says the accelerated training programme will sit alongside additional recruitment efforts, and importantly the maritime ferry industry will benefit as training and development is central to solving the skills shortage for New Zealand.

“Alongside our domestic and international recruitment efforts, and the improved residency pathways for skilled maritime workers, the accelerated training program will additionally provide solutions to New Zealand’s shortage of skilled maritime workers through building the future pipeline of New Zealand marine talent.”

Notes to the editor

  • It is expected that Fullers360’s accelerated crew training programme will take between 14 and 18 months.
  • AT is planning to return services on the Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay routes to full timetables once the accelerated crew training programme is complete.
  • Fullers360 will no longer be operating the Birkenhead, Te Onewa Northcote Point and Bayswater routes from 1 October. Auckland Transport remains committed to operating these ferry routes and is actively exploring options for an alternative operator.
    • A range of reliable bus services are already available for passengers on these routes to use, including feeder bus services connecting each ferry terminal to high frequency and rapid bus routes travelling to the City Centre.
    • These bus services are cheaper for customers than the existing ferry services – $4.20 for an adult bus fare compared with $5.80 for a ferry fare.
    • With Auckland’s bus driver shortage now over these bus services are now highly reliable, more frequent, and less subject to weather-related cancellations.
  • Weekday peak services will continue to operate for Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay, but the following changes will be made to timetables:
    • Weekday trips between 10am and 2pm will be suspended.
    • Weekdays trips after 8pm will be suspended.
    • Weekend services to Half Moon Bay will be suspended.
    • We are planning to maintain some peak services for Gulf Harbour. Timetables still need to be confirmed.
    • Customers will be able on scheduled bus services during these periods and AT is reviewing options to supplement services around the ferry terminals.
    • AT is aiming to publish new timetables for Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay along with details about alternative transport options by the end of August.

So, something like this.

Much like the rail network rebuild, cancelling services so they can be made better faster is a tricky trade-off and will have some serious impacts on users, especially those that can’t just jump on a bus.

As our friends at Bike Auckland highlighted, these cancellations reinforce the need for liberating a lane on the bridge for active modes.

Currently ferries – or a 50 kilometre journey on the western route using the Upper Harbour Motorway – are the only option for people who want to cross the Waitematā harbour from North Shore to the CBD with their bikes. Without ferries from Birkenhead and Northcote, cyclists crossing the Waitematā harbour will need to ride an extra 12km (roughly 45 minutes) to use the Devonport Ferry terminal – and the fastest route is along notoriously dangerous roads. This will also put extra pressure on the Devonport ferry and, as ferries have a limited capacity for bikes per trip, more people with bikes will be unable to get on board the ferry at peak times. The longer, more dangerous commute paired with this unreliability will force many to drive for their journeys instead.

“This is clearly impractical for most commuter cyclists, and highlights the gap in the city’s cycling network created by our motor-vehicle-only harbour bridge,” says Bike Auckland chair Karen Hormann

Given these services are all contracted to Auckland Transport, I hope there are some serious penalties being applied to Fullers for this situation – although it appears that even once the training is complete, they’ve lost these contracts completely, and that the alternative AT is seeking is who will operate those routes permanently.

The hope is that AT can get an alternative operator in place quickly, and I imagine that some of the other commercial operators, like the Explore Group are the likely candidate.

This situation also highlights why it was good that last year AT took ownership of some of the ferries themselves – and will own the new electric and hybrid ferries under construction. A key reason for doing this was to help make it easier for new operators to enter the market.

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  1. To me this looks like AT taking those routes off Fullers to run the electric ferries, with Fullers taking a business decision to redistribute crew immediately, and AT being left with the problem due to a poor contract (from AT and the publics point of view). The Fullers crew would otherwise be redundant at the point where AT takes over.
    Having more operators is ultimately a good thing and the change to electric operations.

  2. Can anyone remember ,several years ago Fullers ” predatory pricing ” to drive a competitor out of the Waiheke route. This situation is now fertile ground for an overseas operator, to make Fullers irrelevant. Why do monopolistic show such arrogance?

    1. Actually I don’t think Fullers changed their pricing when Explore Group set up in competition. However, I remember Explore Group complaining that AT wouldn’t give them access to a covered wharf, or ticketing booths, or signage, etc., so tourists couldn’t know they existed when they turned up to travel to Waiheke. Those who did know (Waiheke residents) had to queue in the rain down Quay Street, whereas Fullers had all of the ticket offices and covered wharves to use (noting of course that they don’t own them).

      I also remember that Fullers changed their timetables to run just before the competitor’s boats and then made sure that the buses on Waiheke only met their sailings and not the competitor’s. And finally I remember that once the competitor had failed (citing AT’s lack of support as a major factor), Fullers’ service dropped right off again and they put their prices up. All out of the international parent company’s standard playbook (e.g.

  3. The unspoken part of this is that for the last couple of years the Waiheke ferry route has been suffering from so many cancellations, and overcrowding/full ferries, largely due to this staffing issue. Fullers is trying to avoid the Waiheke route having its PTOM exemption removed. It seems to be improving the Waiheke service (still bad, but not so terrible as it has been) by pulling staff and vessels from other routes. I’m pretty sure this has come about after discussions between Fullers and AT and others, because really the Waiheke ferry service is more essential than a service which can be replaced by a bus. (Obviously, it’s not good to be cancelling those other routes, but it seems the least bad option for managing the staff shortage…once one has discounted sufficient improvements to pay and conditions for staff).

  4. Is there any reason why they can’t run a circular route for City-Devonport-Bayswater-Northcote-Birkenhead in both directions? That probably need less crew overall and actually improve the service?

      1. I have often thought we should have a round-the-harbour service in both directions – all stops.

        It might pick up some new passengers looking to make impromptu trips not to/from the CBD, those that are not time sensitive and move their trips from off-peak/to the longer route. Might also replace some bus users who find the cross-lower-North Shore services, tortuous. Bound to get some tourists too.

        1. Birkenhead to downtown: 3.8km
          Birkenhead to downtown via Bayswater and Devonport: 9.8km.

          Really inconvenient sending half the boats the long, wrong way round.
          If you really want something like that, do one side to the other via Downtown, but don’t send the fleet on a long loop de loop where nobody want’s to go.

  5. No worries, Because NZ is the best in the world! We has no problems to work by walk, and or by bicycle, or even take a break not to work. This can help the climate as no ferry mean no burning, no pollution, its good to all of us and also good to the working public to take a rest. We has no problems on the economic as NZ is so rich that many people make dreams everyday to change the world!

    The ferry company is managed well that all shortage of stuff just happened instantly, they won’t know it beforehand or seek remedy actions! Since NZ has no competition and those public transport are well protected by Authorities, they don’t care about the general public. If in other countries, these kind of public transport had already well fired beforehand. But this is not possible in NZ as they are well protected.

    Other public transport will copy and paste this action soon to cut the services as lazy is the norm here.

    Many people everyday say public transport, public transport, but they never know the NZ are so big that are public transport companies well managed or not and is it possible for a country like NZ whose people are well spread over a long traffic area!
    Look at Japan, whose country size is similar to NZ but Japan public transport is well knitted and the fair to pay is reasonable, than the general public will take the public transport without you to teach them how.

    If the product is good, do you think you still need to teach them how?

  6. Gawd….what a mess. Public transport management is a constant disappointment in NZ. Like all those rail users who have been told there are no trains for a year they will now be joined by ferry users who won’t even have the luxury of knowing when this will be resolved.

    Which muppet in Auckland Transport is going to full on their sword and accept some accountability for this debacle?

    1. > Which muppet in Auckland Transport is going to full on their sword and accept some accountability for this debacle?

      You’re joking, right? There is no accountability in AT.

  7. Like the upgrade of Northcote Wharf, AT has almost finished it’s upgrade of the ferry terminal, with a dozen ports.

    So now Fullers cancels a few, essentially making the infrastructure investment questionable.

    We have an oversupply of buses, and ferries, but lack of personnel to operate these.

    Auckland has suffered for too long from these infrastructure upgrades around international events, that become white elephants and fluffy plastic cloud recyclable draughty “free” venues for the biggest tournament this country has ever, and will ever see.

    Meanwhile we still cannot traverse our harbour bridge without fossil fuel (EVs are not really a solution to congestion or climate change).

    With a council set on austerity, and a waning government in Wellington making delusional promises, it is no wonder that most political parties sound like they are stuck in the 1950s.

    Nothing much has really changed, still pale, stale, disconnected from reality males dominating our political power structures.

    Sad, or embarrassing, or worrying, I am not sure; but it is not progressive, and despite extreme weather events, the political will for action is still weak.

  8. Regarding the Gulf Harbour Ferry – the existing 24 ferry sailings has been reduced to 4 with the only 2 of these in peak. It is an absolute lie that peak services have not been affected. A bus from Gulf Harbour to the city is close to 2 hours, when the ferry ride is 50 minutes. Auckland Transport has an obligation to provide timely public transport and they have slayed the Whangaparaoa community down brutally. Making the longest commute from an Auckland suburb even longer by double.
    This report needs to be updated with genuine facts of how the Gulf Harbour to City has intentionally been run down over the past 2 years to skew figures.

  9. Auckland Transport needs to tender the gulf harbour contract again. Fullers are no longer meeting the requirements. Staff shortages are not industry wide that is an excuse for bad management, terrible rostering and poor staff morale.
    I would like to see Greater Auckland do an article focusing on Gulf Harbour’s ferry demise.

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