April 14, 2019

Who should get Auckland’s clever ideas over the line?

by digitalteam in Uncategorized

Auckland’s ferries are a key part of the public transport system – but where is the backing to make them electric?

The possibility that a world-renowned Auckland boat builder could become a global pioneer in building high-speed, high-tech commuter ferries is a compelling one.

McMullen and Wing’s pitching of the project to build electric ferries made it to Auckland Council last week, but the response of assembled Auckland decision makers should ring alarm bells.

A few polite detail questions, one of which wasn’t “How can we help?”, and chief executive Mike Eaglen headed back to the Mt Wellington boatyard.

On one level, helping to realise projects like the e-ferry is why the amalgamated Auckland Council was formed 10 years ago.
The amalgamation was about the council being more efficient, fixing Auckland’s problems better and faster, but also getting the most out of its economic potential.

Another group of companies is building a one-off electric ferry for Wellington

The multi-sector “Competitive Auckland” group in 2000 started the serious debate on lifting Auckland’s economy and the marine industry was on not only its hot-list, but every one since.

Firms like McMullen and Wing were already doing it. They built the trio of revolutionary fibre-glass boats for New Zealand’s first America’s Cup campaign in 1986, and Team New Zealand’s winning 1995 America’s Cup boat.

Today, the Auckland council “family” holds many of the cards needed for the city to become the home of the world’s first fleet of carbon-fibre-hulled e-ferries.

Council agency Auckland Transport contracts out all but two of the region’s ferry routes.

The ferry fleet is ageing, and AT spent two years in vain trying to launch a new era of ferry transport – new ferries, new designs – before pulling the plug because it would cost more than it could afford.

Ferry operators can’t buy new ferries without new contracts.

The council economic development agency ATEED is tasked with lifting productivity, and while it can introduce McMullen and Wing to government agencies with money, it has none itself to help with research and development.

Some political championing from Auckland might help unlock funding at the Government’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. It has money for just such projects – unless they are boats or planes.

A prime reason for Auckland Council to invest $114 million in facilities to help host sailing’s America’s Cup in 2021, is the economic spin-off. Showcasing the city’s marine export industry is one of them.

As a signatory to the global C40 cities’ commitment to curb global warming, Auckland Council could do with an alternative to its fleet of diesel fume-pumping ferries.

McMullen and Wing wasn’t necessarily looking for money from the council, (though it would no doubt help) and it is making headway so far with private backing.

Finding a way to put several e-ferries onto the harbour by 2021, you’d think would be a task the council could and would want to greatly assist.

But instead of asking, “How can we help?” councillors asked minor technical questions of Eaglen.

Mayor Phil Goff asked how far they could travel and how long it took to re-charge a ferry.

Eaglen sees the market as one with few overseas competitors at the moment – a chance for Auckland and New Zealand firms to move quickly and get a jump globally.

Councillors thanked him for his presentation.