A lack of space on the Waiheke ferry has seen commuters and staff go head-to-head as winter sets in. Staff say they are facing a barrage of abuse from frustrated passengers unable to get home or to appointments, while commuters argue the operator - Fullers - is disregarding the disruption to their daily lives. Kirsty Johnston reports.

Frustrated Waiheke commuters stand accused of violence against ferry staff amid escalating tensions caused by reduced winter sailings to the island.

Passengers desperate not to be left on the dock are reportedly increasingly lashing out at crew, including pushing and shoving Fullers workers, and shouting abuse if the ferry is full.

In one recent instance queuing customers even "held the gangway hostage" by refusing to move aside while there were still spare seats on the departing ferry - left empty when there aren't enough staff to meet health and safety ratios - delaying the boat and leaving staff shaken.

Advertisement

"Some crew are refusing to work on the Waiheke run because they are scared ... I know some who call in sick rather than work that shift," a former Fullers staff member told the Herald on Sunday.

"I understand it's frustrating but I still don't think the level of abuse and bullying that people are dishing out is acceptable."

She said most of the bad behaviour was from locals, not tourists.

Matiatia on Waiheke Island is one of the problem areas, where passengers say they're being left behind. Photo / File
Matiatia on Waiheke Island is one of the problem areas, where passengers say they're being left behind. Photo / File

Commuters spoken to by the Herald on Sunday said tensions had been rising since Fullers, the ferry operator, switched from half-hourly sailings in summer, to its winter schedule with hourly sailings at off-peak times and reducing spaces on-board the boats, resulting in passengers being left behind.

Long-time commuter Robin Tucker said just last week she was on a sailing where up to 40 people were left behind in Auckland, with the lines stretching into the street.

"It's this horrible situation where we literally are being left behind at the wharves," Tucker said. "If you're trying to get home it's really hard - and it's not like we have another choice."

The new Auckland to Waiheke Fullers ferry, Torea, was launched in 2017. Photo / File
The new Auckland to Waiheke Fullers ferry, Torea, was launched in 2017. Photo / File

Tucker said the last time she'd experienced an upset this bad was the winter before a second operator - Explore - began sailing to the island, in 2015. Following that move, Fullers increased its sailings.

Explore pulled its services in 2016. Fullers is now the sole provider again, and winter sailings have halved this season.

Other commuters described being left in the cold and rain because ferries were cancelled without warning, and about their children missing netball and rugby games on the mainland, to huge disappointment.

Waiheke local board chairwoman Cath Handley said she was increasingly fielding complaints from residents who had missed appointments, run late for interviews, and been unable to pick up children from school.

"I know taking it out on Fullers is upsetting but the anxiety level and frustration of people trying to get home is terrible," Handley said.

"The hostility is the worst it's ever been in 20 years of living on the island."

Some of the ferries are being sailed with seats to spare due to staff shortages, commuters say. Photo / File
Some of the ferries are being sailed with seats to spare due to staff shortages, commuters say. Photo / File

Handley said the issue was caused by a number of factors including the reduced sailings; a number of recent breakdowns; and the size of the boats.

She said the board had requested an urgent meeting with Fullers over the issue but it was unable to meet them for two weeks.

Fullers did not respond to emails or calls from the Herald on Sunday.