GOLOCAL

The new operator of the Hokianga ferry says there will be no change in fares for the cross-harbour trip as a result of the change of contract.

On Friday, Bay of Islands-based Fullers GreatSights took over the contract to operate the council-owned ferry Kohu Ra Tuarua, which shuttles vehicles and foot passengers between Rawene and Kohukohu.

It had been run for many years by Broadspectrum, an international infrastructure firm.

Fullers GreatSights general manager Charles Parker said the Hokianga ferry was ''very compatible'' with the company's existing services, which include the Opua vehicle ferry and some Paihia-Russell passenger ferries.

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''It's something we know a lot about ... The intention is to keep the existing staff but our team (in the Bay of Islands) can provide backup if needed.''

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Parker said Fullers GreatSights had no influence on ferry fares or frequency, which were set by the Far North District Council and the NZ Transport Agency.

The only change planned was a switch to electronic ticketing, similar to that used in the Bay of Islands, instead of the current paper tickets.

He expected that would happen in the next few months but the details were still being worked out.

Council infrastructure manager Andy Finch said Fullers GreatSights won the three-year contract with a right of renewal in an open tender process that closed in September 2019.

"The service is still owned and managed by the council. Just as before, decisions about ferry fares and the timetable will be made by the council in consultation with our funding partner, the NZ Transport Agency, the community and the operator. These are assessed every three years."

Fullers GreatSights was chosen because of its expertise in running vehicle ferries and its maritime safety credentials.

In 2018 Broadspectrum's parent company said it would refocus its New Zealand businesses on its core roading, water and wastewater operations, and wanted to relinquish the ferry contract.

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Finch thanked Broadspectrum and its staff for a ''fantastic job''.

Meanwhile, Hokianga Health chief executive John Wigglesworth questioned why the ferry service was not run in-house by the council in partnership with a community organisation.

He was not convinced there were savings to be had by contracting out the service and was concerned that large companies did not necessarily have local interests at heart, especially when it came to running an essential service such as the Hokianga ferry.

However, Fullers GreatSights was at least a Northland-based company whose core business was ferries, so the change was a step in the right direction.

''It should be run locally but now the council has made this decision we will support Fullers GreatSights and look forward to working with them,'' Wigglesworth said.

Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield) was founded in Australia in the 1950s. It is now owned by Spanish company Ferrovial. Fullers GreatSights is owned by New Zealand company Entrada Travel Group (formerly InterCity).

The current one-way fare on the Opua ferry is $13.50 (for vehicles under 6m) and $1 for adult foot passengers. The one-way fare on the Hokianga ferry is $20 and $2 per passenger.

Both services offer 10-trip concession tickets with a significant discount for local residents, though the definition of 'local' varies. In the Bay of Islands the discount rate is limited to Paihia, Opua and Russell residents, while the Hokianga ferry's local rate has traditionally been available to all Far North residents.

The Hokianga ferry travels about 2.1km; the Opua ferry crossing is just over 800m.