We should know better


    When the  furore broke around Waka Kotahi’s post-election bombshell announcement that Auckland ferry operator Fullers360 will not have its fares regulated on the Waiheke route, the ferry company’s CEO Mike Horne said the Scottish-owned company had successfully demonstrated an abundance of competition and price options on the route in a sequence of commissioned reports.

    No surprises there, but he also noted that commuters and residents now “actually have access to Auckland [AT] Hop level pricing, which is about $10 each way”.

    Really?  Actually,  it is $16.75 so an exaggeration but it’s true that a single trip price goes down if passengers purchase from a range of frequent ferry-user concessions, as both Auckland Transport and Fullers360  websites show.

    This Hop card price is a small relief for your average long-term resident taking a child to an optometrist or trying to persuade friends or family to come down for a visit. The advertised price of $59 a round trip, if not the three hours on a draughty inner-city wharf, can be mitigated.

    The $22 round trip price was written indelibly in the annals of fast ferry pricing that began in the 1980s when commuters and residents still riding the ferry company’s wartime Fairmile navy launches and the placid old Baroona agreed to pay the then-considerable fare so the company could raise capital for the new ship.

    The price point was long since eclipsed through a sequence of private and mostly exemplary monopoly ownerships and over the years generations of islanders have lived in an expensive but mutually beneficial relationship that grew both the ferry company and the offshore island’s astonishing international reputation as a travel destination while preserving the many strands that make up its distinctive community.

    The spacious and well-laid-out original Quickcat – a design used for inter-island and waterway ferry routes throughout the Pacific – was an unqualified success; a mini cruise past Rangitoto and a liberal sprinkling of islands to Mātiatia making a peaceful end to working weeks.

    As we said at the time, and in a good way, we were half an hour and a hundred years away from the city.

    We progressed from the despised ‘fruit and nut island’ of the 1980s to a global must for independent travellers, Lonely Planet and Condé Nast 20 years later. We even felt that the famously expensive cost of getting here helped slow down numbers while we struggled, unsuccessfully, for infrastructure in the bureaucratic supercity conglomerate.

    It’s still a missing, even the poorly designed Downtown wharf infrastructure is wretched, our calls for workable boarding protocols like those on the Devonport wharf apparently beyond the powers that be.  It works seamlessly, less than 50 metres away. Passengers tag on into the boarding area, confident that they’re accounted for and booked for the next ferry, comfortable, seated, sheltered from prevailing winds and weather, not a queue in sight until it comes to an unhurried boarding call. No one is left standing, sometimes for hours locked in a seethe of strangers all going nowhere, suitcases, toddlers and purchases increasingly frayed.

    Like a lot of things in this strange interregnum between five years of back-to-back disasters and a new National-led Government looking very like the last, we have a growing awareness that we are on our own.

    “Passions are running high while the potential for meaningful, long-lasting change remains vanishingly small. No wonder voters are feeling bewildered,” political commentator Max Rashbrooke wrote as the election ground to a close.

    “For many years, the New Zealand electorate was – in global terms – a sunny outlier,” he said. “Across several governments since the turn of the century, two-thirds of Kiwis said the country was on the right track, even while such confidence measures collapsed overseas. Now, we have joined the pack. Just one-fifth of us think we’re heading in the right direction.”

    You’d think New Zealand would know better, Gordon Campbell, wrote on the Werewolf site this week.

    “We watched state monopolies transition into being private neo-monopolies and then milk that market advantage and maximise short-term shareholder returns rather than invest adequately in new technology, in innovation and in labour force upskilling, all of which went backwards under private ownership. As you’d expect.

    “America has always seen the need for government intervention and regulation to keep markets free and competitive. Otherwise, markets will succumb to their natural trajectory, which is to culminate in concentrations of market power that will inevitably lead to predatory price fixing and other toxic behaviours that will smother true competition (e.g. Supie) in its cradle.”

    We know this, and how badly the pent up forces of resentment and entitlement will play out if we don’t mobilise at the grass roots level to protect our local assets, properties, food, health and educational needs and tangible gains in equality. • Liz Waters

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