Mike Horne of the under-fire ferry service Fullers360 apologised to Waiheke Island commuters after weeks of frustration.
Hundreds of locals shuffled into Morra Hall to express their concerns with the chief executive, who said the meeting was at times "emotional".
"I'm deeply concerned and I'm extremely regretful that we've not met your expectations," Horne said.
Fullers was initially interested in discussing concerns over its services, Horne told the Herald, but the conversation quickly changed tack.
"We were quite keen to talk about the service issues that have been mentioned but very quickly the meeting moved on to a discussion on exemptions," he said.
Fullers has a special status which exempts its ferry services from Auckland Transport oversight and competitive tendering rules.
Last month, Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced a review of the public transport operating model (PTOM), to which Horne is keen to contribute.
Fullers recently reduced its services for winter, which resulted in long queues, lengthy delays and sometimes cancellations.
Frustrated commuters were accused of violence against ferry staff amid escalating tensions caused by the reduced winter sailings to the island.
Horne said the meeting was constructive and he came out of it with a better appreciation of the community's perspective.
"Some of it was daunting to be fair, but to be able to listen to people directly and being able to have a two-way conversation, even though it was reasonably emotional from time to time, I think that's really useful," he said.
However, he conceded better communication with local government around the service was needed.
"There are things with our service that we can deal with and we can solve, some clear next steps," Horne said.
"The bigger bit, which is the key bit, is there needs to be more collaboration with local government in particular and the Government.
"I feel it's important to get across that the ferry service revolves around the facilities, the wharf, the water space, the land space, which is all Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Panuku," Horne said.
Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, who attended the meeting, said she would write to Auckland mayor Phil Goff and Twyford arguing the exemption be lifted.
"I think it's really important that things happen between NZTA and Auckland Transport and Fullers," she told the Herald.
"There are three things that I want to achieve, that the exempt service is lifted and we get legal guarantees around the quality of service, that Waiheke is included in integrated ticketing, and thirdly, we get clarity around the downtown ferry terminal and there are going to be quality services for Waiheke and Devonport."