Pensioners flocking to Waiheke Island delivered more than $750,000 in Government subsidies to Auckland ferry operator Fullers in the first five months of free travel for SuperGold cardholders.

Excursions to the island by an average of just over 200 pensioners a day accounted for almost a quarter of the Government's contribution to free off-peak travel on trains, buses and ferries throughout the Auckland region, according to figures supplied to campaigners for lower ferry fares for Waiheke residents.

These earned Fullers $756,429 in Government subsidies and about $11,000 as a top-up from the Auckland Regional Council for the five months to February 28, after which a national free travel scheme was introduced by the previous Labour-led Government - on the prompting of its junior coalition partner New Zealand First.

The Waiheke contribution is 23 per cent of the $3.322 million of Government money paid through the Auckland Regional Transport Authority to transport operators throughout the region.

Fullers is reimbursed $12.59 or 75 per cent of the after-tax single adult fare of $16.79 between Auckland and Waiheke, for SuperGold cardholders travelling after 9am each weekday, or at any time during weekends.

Campaign 4 Fair Ferry Fares spokeswoman Cathy Urquhart, who obtained the Government subsidy breakdown from the transport authority, says she is not begrudging senior citizens and war pensioners the freedom of her island.

"That's absolutely fine, seeing them all over the island," she said yesterday. "But at the same time we've got young people having to move off the island because they can't afford the fares. Fullers is pocketing a huge benefit from the SuperGold card scheme and the falling diesel prices, but haven't yet passed on those savings in a fair and transparent way."

Dr Urquhart's group campaigned fiercely against increases in ferry fares in October after Fullers blamed hefty fuel and maintenance cost rises. Although Fullers has since reduced one fare and also partly rescinded increases on other routes, the group has continued to press for more cuts as diesel prices have kept falling.

It issued a table yesterday claiming that the monthly Waiheke fare was now 23 per cent higher in terms of how much diesel it could buy than an average level since mid-2005.

Fullers chief executive Doug Hudson said diesel was not his only cost and the company recently spent $5 million adding two vessels to its fleet. Neither did all the SuperGold cardholders now enjoying free travel represent extra business for the company, as some had previously boarded the ferries on concessionary fares.

Mr Hudson said that although the free travel scheme was a welcome boost to his company and the Waiheke economy, it had simply stemmed a drop in patronage which would otherwise have been suffered by transport operators in the recession.

* Government subsidies for off-peak travel by SuperGold card-holders:
* $72 million budgeted nationally over 4 years from October 1, 2008.
* Allocation to Auckland, October 1-February 28 - $3,322,570.
* Allocation to Fullers for travel on Waiheke ferries, October-February - $756,429.