With ferry prices rising, Minister of Transport Michael Wood is refusing to wait on negotiations, kicking off the process to bring Waiheke's ferry into the public transport network.
Auckland MP Chloe Swarbrick says the ferry - which just saw the price of a monthly pass increased to $403 - is one of the most expensive in the world and one of the biggest concerns raised by constituents in the past few years.
Waiheke Island residents have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the service. In 2019 a petition started by Auckland Councillor Chris Darby collected more than 5500 signatures calling on the Government to take action to bring the service under the oversight of Auckland Transport.
Darby on Friday hit out at the decision by Fullers 360 to raise fares; with the price of trips to Waiheke and Rangitoto islands and Coromandel township set to go up by an average of 8.4 per cent.
A return trip to Waiheke would now cost $46, up from $42, with monthly passes costing $403.
Darby told RNZ's Checkpoint talks had been going on behind the scenes but the Government was losing patience and was poised to take action.
"We need to make sure that we maintain a reliable service there to Waiheke, and we proceed in a way that the law requires us all to proceed - both Fullers and the Government through the Ministry of Transport: there is a set process - but the minister has given unequivocal words today that it's there for review - he's had enough."
Wood confirmed his frustrations to reporters this afternoon.
"I've run out of patience and I believe it's an appropriate time to start this process," he said.
On Friday, Fullers detailed big losses on the route.
Darby countered that fares on regulated routes had been held in February because the council was looking at the "bigger picture" of getting people back into the CBD. And fares on other routes were halved between April and September under Government cost-of-living relief measures - but the flipside of the Waiheke route's exemption from regulation was that it did not qualify for subsidies.
The councillor said the route had been highly profitable for Fullers before, and would be so again.
It would take some time to bring Fullers fully into the public transport network, Wood said this afternoon, but the Government was determined to get a better result for Waiheke commuters.
"First there has to be work that is done through Waka Kotahi to communicate with Auckland Transport as the local authority to understand what the particular needs in the region is and whether it's justified that the service be brought into the public transport network."
Once complete, an order in council could remove the exemption the Waiheke and Devonport ferry services have from being part of Auckland Transport's wider public transport network.
Wood said his approach and that of the previous minister had been to "strongly encourage Fullers and Auckland Transport to reach an agreement themselves", but he had received assurances over a "long period".
"If an agreement can be reached between the parties that's great, but I don't want things to be held up waiting forever for that to happen."
Swarbrick described the problem as "colossal".
"I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that this has been one of the biggest issues that I've been dealing with as Auckland Central MP - particularly for my Waiheke constituents - over the past few years."
She said the process had not gone fast enough, with Waiheke residents waiting at least 10 years for progress.
"This is actually an anomaly inside our public transport system that there was an exclusion in the first place was completely and inexplicably decided by Steven Joyce when he was minister of transport in the early 2010s," she said.
"This is a major barrier to transparency around putting on these services for Fullers but also the profit that they're making and therefore where that fat is that makes this one of the most expensive ferry routes in the entire world."
Darby said giving Auckland Transport oversight could mean integration of ticketing and contracting, better affordability and a stronger emphasis on better delivery of services.
He said the exemption that allowed Fullers to operate outside of Auckland Transport's remit was a mistake and overdue to be overturned.
"This is a decade-long exemption - it goes back to a previous Minister of Transport who gave them the free run, and the residents of Waiheke and Devonport have had to pay for that, unlike all the other commuters all over Auckland, who are part of an integrated service.
"There's some 10,000 residents on Waiheke, and this is their umbilical cord off the island - there's no bus lanes off the island, or bike lanes or pedestrian paths - it's just the ferry. So it's absolutely critical to them - and to a lesser extent, the Devonport residents as well."
He was confident the cogs were now turning faster, and action was imminent.
"We are making progress on negotiating the Devonport Service, and I think there'll be an announcement from both Fullers and Auckland Transport within about two weeks," he said.
The price hikes applied from this Friday and would also affect the Rangitoto Island, Rotoroa Island and Coromandel services.
Fullers said the increases were necessary due to massive losses, record-high fuel prices and increases in insurance and materials. The marine diesel it used did not qualify for cost relief measures from the Government, it said.
"This is Fullers360's first fare increase since before the Covid-19 pandemic," the business said in a statement.
"Despite the business's best efforts to avoid passing on costs to customers, a general fare increase is required for Fullers360 to maintain a sustainable service, following the sharp rise in operating costs over the past two years."
Some Waiheke Island residents told RNZ they were infuriated by the rise in ticket prices.
"It's outrageous; it's about time that the council does something about it - the Government, whenever. But just no.
"Personally, I'll just wait to get out of the island - it's not fun anymore."
Others had seen the price increase coming.
"Everything's going up ... with petrol - so it's bound to happen. I think they did good service during Covid, giving everyone essential services.
"I think they do their best, so we feel that it's acceptable."
In 2019, then-Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the ferry service's exemption from being included in Auckland Transport's remit was being reviewed.