The Government is being urged to step in to resolve issues with the Waiheke ferry service, as irate commuters face being left out in the cold over the winter months.
It comes as reduced winter sailings to the island have seen many passengers stranded on the dock, missing appointments and unable to get home.
Some frustrated commuters have reportedly lashed out at Fullers' staff, even shouting abuse and shoving ferry workers.
Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye and Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley are meeting with Fullers CEO Mike Horne this afternoon to discuss a way forward. Horne has called the abuse "very unsettling" and is urging commuters to treat crews with respect.
Now Auckland councillor Chris Darby is writing to Minister of Transport Phil Twyford to ask for Fullers to lose a special status which exempts its ferry services from Auckland Transport oversight and competitive tendering rules.
That would bring Fullers' Waiheke and Devonport routes under the oversight of Auckland Transport, allowing for integrated fares and giving the organisation a close look at Fullers' operations, he says. Currently Auckland Transport can penalise rail and bus companies that fail to deliver on their contracts, but Fullers' Waiheke and Devonport routes have no such rules.
"They can be as late as possible and they only have to answer to their customers," Darby said.
The National Government brought in the current public transport model to encourage competition in the sector. But former National Transport Minister Steven Joyce exempted Fullers' services from the model, against Auckland Transport's wishes.
"Auckland Transport argued way back then to the then-minister that all services were integral to the wider public transport network," Darby said. "The then-minister took that all into account and decided with Fullers.
"That exemption means Auckland Transport can't see into that business - it can't see its revenues, can't see the patronage mix, and they don't have control over the fare structures in the same way."
Phil Twyford announced last week he would be reviewing the current model. Darby said he would be calling for that review to include the possibility of removing Fullers' exempt status.
Darby, who is chairman of Auckland Council's planning committee, said there are also issues with Fullers' Devonport service. In 2018 Fullers' Stanley Bay-CBD service was brought under Auckland Transport oversight.
Auckland Transport flagged the ferries problem in its Regional Public Transport Plan, approved in February. AT says in the plan it wants ferries integrated with the rest of the city's public transport network by 2021.
"We've made it crystal clear in there that all ferry services are integral to the wider ferry network and the wider public transport network," Darby said.
But from there it's still a long route to reach a point where AT could bring Fullers into line, Darby said.
Twyford on the other hand has the ability "with the stroke of a pen" to remove the exempt status, although Fullers would likely appeal that decision. Darby said he had written to the minister last year but would be writing again this week to ask him to consider the issue.
Fullers' CEO Mike Horne called the reports of abuse against his staff "very unsettling".
"It's completely unacceptable to abuse our crew and staff, who work incredibly hard to get them where they want to go," Horne said ahead of a meeting with Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye and Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley this afternoon.
"We urge our commuters to please treat crew with respect as we work through solutions."
Horne said Fullers' services were reliable more than 99 per cent of the time across the network.
"While we understand that queues and service disruptions are frustrating to our customers, these are isolated incidents within a reliable ferry service we're proud to deliver," Horne said.
Disquiet on the western front
Fullers' service to Hobsonville Point - recently bolstered by locals chipping in some of their own funds - has also suffered issues.
Frequent breakdowns that have seen a series of aging stand-in vessels drafted in.
Despite a third morning sailing recently being added, the 7.45am sailing on May 13 saw commuters stranded on the wharf due to overcrowding - with the next boat into the city not departing until 9am.
And on April 8, the 7.45am Fullers ferry left Hobsonville Point with 40 to 50 angry commuters left stranded on the wharf, despite the boat's top deck being largely empty. Residents who complained were told the vessel was trying to stay within the required crew-to-passenger ratio, which was lower than usual due to a staffer's unexpected absence.