Fullers360 boss Mike Horne has some simple advice for people wanting to travel by ferry to Waiheke this summer. Book online and catch a ferry before 9am, especially at the weekend.
During the busy months, Fullers will transport more than 2 million passengers - more than the population of Auckland - to and from the beaches, vineyards and olive groves of Waiheke Island.
The other nine months of the year, 400,000 mostly island commuters make the 40-minute journey. That's 1500 to 2000 passengers a day, compared to 12,000 passengers on a busy day over summer.
• Fullers ferry service reaches 'peak failure': 'They're operating like a bunch of cowboys'
• Fullers Waiheke ferry 'stuck at sea' after losing life raft
• Fire on ferry: Firefighters board Fullers passenger vessel at sea
• Fuller promises more ferries after debacle
The past few summers have been mayhem with long queues on the wharves, packed ferries and unhappy customers. Tension, abuse and even violence broke out in May this year when Fullers switched from half-hourly sailings in summer to its winter schedule with hourly sailings off peak and people crammed on smaller boats.
"Waiheke Island is a world-class destination but is receiving a substandard destination," Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye said at the time.
Horne acknowledges things went pear-shaped in May, saying numbers were unexpectedly high following a long, hot summer and Fullers was not quick enough to deal with it. Weather played a part with 10 of 18 cancelled services with fog issues in the city, he said.
At the time, Horne vowed to "do better" and improve communication, transparency and customer experience after a run of cancelled services, breakdowns and stranded commuters.
With the summer peak underway, Horne is keen to explain the steps Fullers is taking to improve ferry services to Waiheke and issue a cautionary note about the challenges arising from disruptive roadworks in the city at Quay St and the ferry basin.
But first the boats. This summer, Horne said, there will be "plenty of capacity" with eight boats available for the ferry service to Waiheke, including two new 400-seat vessels, Kekeno and Iko Kakahi. They have been refurbished and feature new engines, luggage and bike racks, tables and canopies.
In the last two years, Fullers has moved from two boats on the Waiheke run to a minimum of four boats and a fifth, back-up boat if one boat breaks down.
This summer, Horne said, the four biggest boats and two smaller vessels will be plying the Waiheke route. When things get really busy, particularly at weekends, up to eight boats will be called into service allowing for unscheduled services between the 30-minute timetable.
When it comes to customer service, Fullers has operated a priority lane for the past two summers. This summer it opened a "resident lane" on October 14 for people with a resident identification card available from the company, and people holding a monthly concession card. It runs from 9am to 6pm in the city and 3pm to 6pm at Matiatia on Waiheke until May 3.
Waiheke Local Board chairwoman Cath Handley said the resident queue is meant to give certainty to residents, but that's not happening because it is not a priority queue. The Local Board is seeking to change that.
She said Waiheke residents are angry with Fullers for running a commercial operation for visitors that traps residents, some of who pay thousands of dollars a year to the company.
"Swarms of visitors are great for the operator, but not great for the residents and people have had enough," Handley said.
For the 70 per cent of passengers who just turn up on the day, Horne said the company is encouraging people to buy tickets online and looking at pricing to manage demand at the busiest time. A new kiosk is also opening on the wharf in the city this summer.
The biggest problem at present is the disruptive roadworks on Quay St and the ferry basin and ferry terminals which have cut the wharf space in half, causing all manner of problems for ferry users, managing the wharf space and queues.
On a sunny Saturday in summer, said Horne, there's a wait time of about 45 minutes at capacity, saying the busiest time is between 9am and 1pm.
"If you are coming down on Saturday morning expecting to get on the next available boat as a visitor that is not going to happen. You will generally be on the second boat or the third boat.
"Very few probably want to go at 6 o'clock in the morning, but 7, 7.30, 8, 8.30 o'clock are really good visitor times if you want to avoid those queues," he said.
Kaye said the resident lane is a potential improvement for the ferries this summer and it is her expectation Fullers will have enough boats to meet the capacity for the extra passengers.
The local MP is a strong advocate for Fullers to lose its exemption from Auckland Transport oversight and competitive tendering rules, saying she would like it to happen now.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford is addressing this as part of a review of the public transport operating model, due for completion in mid-2020.