The campaign to bring the Waiheke ferry service back into the public transport network is dead in the water, as Waka Kotahi officials decide not to make a request for an “order in council” from the Minister of Transport.
The Minister needs a request from Waka Kotahi to proceed with an order in council. It is the only way to remove the exemption, which was made by National Minister of Transport Steven Joyce back in 2011, when the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) that came into effect two years later was being drafted. The decision was controversial at the time, and Waiheke community groups, local MPs and councillors, and the Waiheke Local Board have been lobbying to have the exemption removed ever since. The groups argue Fullers’ that persistent issues with delays, cancellations and ever-increasing fares, well-above other services in the Hauraki Gulf, can largely be traced back to the limited competition and that exemption. As public frustration with Fullers boiled over, former Minister of Transport, Michael Wood, started a review of the Waiheke ferry service exemption in July 2022, and 12 months later Waka Kotahi released a consultant’s report, by Barry Kidd. The Kidd report concluded there is a “strong case” for removing the exemption, as the original rationale for it has “proven flawed.” Kidd says there has been effectively little competition on the Waiheke route and fares are significantly higher than for the two most similar non-exempt routes – Gulf Harbour and Pine Harbour.
Kidd concluded with the fact the Waiheke route is integral to the Auckland region public transport network not being in dispute, the negative impact on the Waiheke community could be said to satisfy the remaining condition for removing the exemption under the Land Transport Management Act – a need to regulate fares.
Waka Kotahi commissioned two more consultants reports to finish its review, which were publicly released on Friday alongside the agency’s final briefing to the transport minister. “After careful consideration of the three reports, Crown Law advice and Fullers360’s willingness to work with central and local government on delivering concessions to groups the government wishes to assist, we have concluded that the Waiheke ferry service is an integral part of the Auckland public transport network but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the service needs its fares to be regulated,” the briefing signed by Waka Kotahi general group manager Chris Bunny states.
This decision seems to be largely based on the follow-up consultants’ reports. Consulting firm Sapere was commissioned to assess the level of competition Fullers faces on the Waiheke route. Sapere concluded that the threat of potential new operators, combined with Sealink’s car ferry, and the option to choose another destination for visitors was enough to count as effective competition.
Deloitte New Zealand was commissioned to investigate if Fullers was making excessive profits on the Waiheke route, and how it sets its fares. Deloitte’s report is heavily redacted for reasons of commercial sensitivity, but finds Fullers is making “normal” levels of profit and taking “an appropriate commercial approach” to setting fares.
Therefore, Chris Bunny says, Waka Kotahi considers the investigation complete and will not be requesting the Minister of Transport proceed with an order in council to remove the Waiheke service’s exemption. • Paul Mitchell
Further analysis and reporting on this decision will be included in the 16 November issue of The Gulf News