Sea change: SuperGold cards to be allowed on Auckland ferry


On board the Island Direct ferry.

On board the Island Direct ferry.
Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The clock is ticking on Fuller’s monopoly of the Waiheke ferry service with the government set to enable newcomers Island Direct to become part of the SuperGold card scheme from the 1 July.

For the last six months, the service has been unable to accept gold cards or AT HOP cards with those commuters forced to take a Fullers ferry.

But there finally looks to be a sea change.

An “exciting rollercoaster” is how Island Direct founder David Todd sums up the last six months of less than smooth sailing.

Over the summer, most of its boats at the weekends have been full.

Now it was hoping to reel in daily commuters.

Launching multi passes a few months ago, and looking to increase its sailings, boats and staff in the future were all part of the plan.

But what it really needed was the ability for passengers to tag on and off and use their gold cards.

Waiheke residents Checkpoint spoke to were in support of the idea.

“I have to opt for Fullers, they’re the only one that takes the gold card and I think Fullers is a monopoly and it abuses it,” said one pensioner.

Another passenger agreed it would be far easier to be able to tap on with a HOP card.

“You can’t tap multiple people on using the one card and the HOP card is a big one and it’s kind of the main thing that we use here on the island.”

One person said that being able to use a HOP card did not make a difference for them, they thought it was a promising idea.

“I would like to see it because I think it levels the playing field between the competitors.”

David Todd said Island Direct has been trying to negotiate with Auckland Transport, NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport since the end of last year to become part of the SuperGold card scheme and allow HOP cards on board.

“We’ve pretty much pulled out all stops, it’s been challenging I would say.”

When asked by Checkpoint what had been the hold up Todd replied, “bureaucracy, it’s as simple as that”.

Minister of Transport Simeon Brown has confirmed to Checkpoint the ministry and NZTA were working with Auckland Transport (AT) to enable Island Direct to become part of the SuperGold card scheme from 1 July.

A key part of this work will be negotiating a contract with Island Direct to include it in the scheme.

In the meantime, Todd said there was no way it could compete despite being $5 cheaper than Fullers at $50 for a return trip.

“At the moment I think we’re operating at about 60 percent of market capacity without super gold and without the HOP card, if we get those, we’ve got a level playing field.”

Waiheke Local Board chairperson Cath Handley said it was time for change.

“The existing service, which is the monopoly service, have been subsidised to the tune of millions of dollars a year from the public purse in the six months of operating this new ferry hasn’t had one cent.”

Waiheke locals RNZ spoke to wanted to see some real competition.

“I know Auckland Transport buggered up the last operators Explorer I think they were called, I don’t know if they’re in bed with Fullers, but it certainly looks that way,” one person said.

“Fullers just need somebody to compete with,” another local agreed.

Cath Handley said she had been given different excuses for the hold up, which she said did not add up.

“You’re not gonna get more commuters just because you’ve got two operators, same with the gold card you don’t suddenly have more gold card people with gold cards going.

“It’s just that there are two services who have got an opportunity commercially to have a slice of the action, I would have thought that was what, government and democracy was about.”

Another issue was limited advertising of the Island Direct service at the Matiatia and downtown ferry terminal.

“If a ferry isn’t arriving on time, it has been cancelled by, let’s say Fullers, there is no announcement to the huge queue of people that there is another ferry leaving in 10 minutes and it’s only a few steps away.”

Island Direct and Fullers both charge $27.50 one way to Waiheke but Fullers is $55 return compared to Island Direct’s flat rate of $50.

Unlike Fullers, Island Direct does not charge commuters any extra to pre-book, something some travellers enjoyed.

“Ohh it’s a different class it’s a bit like turning left when you get on an airplane that’s the difference.

“It’s basically less of a bum fight, so you know you turn up, you get on the boat. It’s all very chill, ” said one local.

“It’s been completely reliable in my experience, and you can book a seat for the same price as queuing up for with Fullers,” said another passenger.

In a statement supplied to RNZ Auckland Transport contract manager Gareth Willis said, “We’re in regular contact with Island Direct about the possible introduction of AT HOP onto their ferry service.

“For AT HOP to be introduced onto the service, there are system reconfiguration requirements that need to be delivered, and AT is assessing how these requirements can be mitigated to enable an accelerated introduction of AT HOP onto the service, we expect to know more in the coming weeks.”

Willis said AT has been supportive of Island Direct’s request to join the SuperGold Card scheme and was reviewing funding availability with NZTA for SuperGold to be added to the service.

“As a result of this review, funding will be sought by NZTA for the service to become part of the scheme from 1 July.”

Subject to Ministerial agreement, if confirmed the SuperGold card would likely be introduced prior to any introduction of AT HOP.

AT group manager of public transport and operations Rachel Cara said AT was very supportive of a fair environment for ferry operators.

“Fullers360 pays to lease multiple premises across the network and this has given them the opportunity to establish a strong brand presence at the Downtown Ferry Terminal and Matiatia.

“We are continuing to work with Island Direct to provide them storage facilities and signage and have been very supportive of them placing marketing and wayfinding signage where possible.

“Island Direct expressed interest in placing a manned ticket kiosk at Matiatia and this is something we are also very supportive of.”



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