COMMENT: By Greg Treadwell
Nikki Kaye's intervention into the Waiheke ferry debacle is welcome but there's a strong sense of rather trop tard about it all.
An urgent investigation by the MP into outright hostility that erupted last week over unreliable ferry services to the Hauraki Gulf island belies decades of neglect from governments, both left and right.
Too long has the essential public transport route been at the mercy of a relentless commercial attitude, with both central and local government watching, hands in pockets for one reason or another, from the sidelines.
This week's conflict on the wharves and even the gangplank, if reports are accurate, when ongoing delays, cancellations and under-staffed boats were just too much for some travellers, were horribly unfortunate.
That's nothing like the usual matter-of-fact but cordial relationship between the hard-working crews on Fullers' boats and the mix of workers, from shop-floor to senior management, who travel to the city each day for work.
While it's fair to say Fullers' management is not held in high regard by those who call the island their home, not their holiday destination, there has long been a catch-cry among passengers that frustrations should not be taken out on the crew.
Last week, sadly, that seemed to get forgotten among the chaos.
But whoever shoved whom on the wharves last week, the rot in the relationship has been worsening for a long time.
It has taken decades of feeling under-valued by a transport "monopoly" in a captured market, years of mistrust, secrecy and poor communication, and now months of unreliable sailings and seemingly not-sorry management, to get us to where we are today.
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And the failure of that relationship is, in a large part, down to authorities, local and central, that have allowed the public-transport aspects of the service to Waiheke to be obscured by the highly profitable tourist demand associated with the island.
Indeed, it's no doubt hard, as you head out to your hard-earned weekend off and the beautiful gulf islands slip by, to imagine how anyone could have any issues out here in paradise.
But for a number of us (still fewer than 8500, almost all of whom do not own an infinity swimming pool), Waiheke is our home and not paradise.
It's where we must deal with all of life's issues, including, like most small places in New Zealand, harsh levels of alcohol and drug dependence, domestic violence and child abuse, suicide and poverty.
This week our idomitable island newspaper, Gulf News, pointed out that, per capita, we have more homeless than anywhere in the city.
You just don't see it when you come over to taste wine or sweep out the bach.
And public transport, for us, is critical. There is no other way. We're reminded constantly that the island is now just another suburb of Auckland but we struggle to see any other Auckland community left so vulnerable to the impacts of monopolistic commercialism.
Once a refuge for outcasts and the vulnerable, Waiheke's now the jewel in Auckland's crown, of course. If that is the case, though, should it cost an Aucklander nearly $50 just to get there for a day visit?
It's well known among island travellers as the most expensive piece of water in the world. Sydney to Manly and back is $19.80.
And over the years, authorities have done nothing to change that, enjoying the administrative and political benefits of having a hungry, committed operator in place and being reluctant to do anything that would upset that arrangement.
In fact, the Waiheke service and other gulf ferry services were deliberately excluded, as a result of lobbying, from the Public Transport Operating Model, keeping the service entirely private and out of reach of prying eyes or public subsudies that would bring fares down.
Ironically, Kaye's interest seems to be in holding Fullers accountable for their service levels. It's understandable, perhaps, that she reacts when a boilover of tempers brings media attention and so a political opportunity.
But any response should be seen against years of inaction from politicians who have allowed a place from which the city reaps heartily to be, at the same time, excluded from the benefits of regulated public transport.
- Greg Treadwell is a senior lecturer in journalism at AUT and has lived on Waiheke for more than 20 years.