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.