Warning. This content may disturb some readers.
“Expect Queues,” the website of ferry company Fullers says as we go into a second summer of overwhelming peak demand. It continues: “There may be long lines to board, especially on Waiheke sailings. Please be patient, our staff are working hard to minimise the wait times and get you on your way as fast as possible.”
TripAdviser – our online portal to the world’s largest travel site – is blunter about the spoiler effect of leaving the always astonishingly dysfunctional Pier 2 – the gateway to what’s arguably Auckland’s hottest destination – as a disorganised mess.
Fullers’ wording indicates that the city-side Pier 2 will be as dismaying to islanders and their business community as it was last year – without the excuses.
The first summer of smaller ferries and queues standing in hot sun (that at times reached Princes Wharf) has apparently created no constructive concern in the monopoly ferry giant owned by Scottish entrepreneur Sir Brian Souter.
This is an astonishing hubris. Fullers’ management had a change of chief executive officer during the year and has signalled a shift in strategy for the cruise, ferry and coach operator during the year. It shows.
Earlier this week, for the second time this summer, I found myself in a ferry queue that stretched from notional shade out into broad sunlight at Pier 2 – this on a Tuesday afternoon when you could have driven a horse and cart up Queen Street without seeing a soul.
Some helpful functionary has removed the seating adjacent to the queues where formerly the overburdened of us sorted our bags or took merciful relief from luggage. As a result, we were standing in jealous lines while the ferry sailing time came and went (along with several ferries including to Half Moon Bay). The shocking gabble from the loudspeakers, in which the words ‘Waiheke ferry’ could occasionally be distinguished, may have given clues. No one looked any the wiser. And what could we do? Exiting these maddening queues is to risk not making the next sailing either.
We stood, and stood. The 2.30 ferry eventually left after 3pm with no other explanation from Fullers’ staff, although there does seem to be a rostered, high-vis vest referee, possibly to make sure that intending passengers talk nicely among themselves and no-one starts swinging punches in frustration.
Eventually, the smallest ship in the fleet docked in front of us and the combined passenger queue for the 2.30 and 3pm sailings crammed aboard, only to find themselves drifting round the inner harbour waiting for the berth at Devonport to be free so it could dock and pick up the passengers there.
It was 3.30pm before the plucky little ship turned its bows towards Waiheke, where, nearly two hours behind schedule, waiting passengers sounded like caged wild beasts as they crowded towards the docking vessel.
Where was the thorough soul who re-organised Devonport’s Pier 1 in recent years so it has, at least, waiting spaces, semi-viable communication and a ticketing system that ensures efficient and equitable embarquation?
Instead, Pier 2’s expanding commercial occupation must be rapidly closing off options for any constructive or even humane boarding procedures. Two hours in a queue with young children? Missing a vital city medical appointment? Just losing two hours of the pre-Christmas schedule you won’t get back is bad enough.
Ticket collecting and counting of numbers relative to the vessel involved has to be managed – and communicated. Fullers got stick last summer for not adding more boats.
The December office party phenomenon must make a huge spike in Fullers profits every year. An algorithm to collate travel numbers is not rocket science; a waiting room for those who have checked in is already in place.
Of course, raucous on-line fury at this blind ineptitude has its advantages. No Auckland couple worth their lattes will wake up on Saturday morning and head down for a few hours in the Fullers’ queue to Waiheke.
The island, including its business and visitor industry operators, made the distinction in the Essentially Waiheke planning documents that we were aiming for traveller and visitor industries, rather than the mass-market tourism which is plaguing the world’s top spots. It is a subtle but vital distinction.
With or without the double decker buses, tourism is for those who want something to do, even if it’s only an upmarket pub crawl through a succession of vineyard nosheries.
Travellers want to make their own discoveries and much more of their revenue is spread around the local community.
Fullers remains a monopoly and hasn’t been regulated, either to service or price, for three decades. Mainly because it would mean disclosing what are probably eye watering profits.
Queues aren’t a force of nature. They are a result of Fullers’ advertising and a probably short-sighted grab for market share at any cost to the island.
• Liz Waters