January 8, 2019

Simon Wilson’s 6 things to fix in Auckland: A dream of fabulous ferries for Auckland commuters

by digitalteam in Uncategorized

Auckland Transport, the Government and Ports of Auckland need to wrap their heads around the idea that ferries are deserving of support in the same way as buses and trains. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There are ferries at the bottom of my garden.

I wish I had thought of that, but I didn’t. It was the poet A.R.D. Fairburn, late of Devonport, and he added that “the Takapuna people envy us”. As well they might. To have a frequent ferry service at the bottom of your garden, or street, or suburb, must be one of the greatest blessings for anyone living in a beautiful harbour city.

So why is it denied to so many? Will it always be?

The good answer is: not if Fullers360 has its way. It has plans.

The great answer is: e-ferries.

Just like scooters, only bigger, and in the shape of boats. Electric ferries will disrupt this industry soon, and that should be great news for Aucklanders living all round the coastlines.

Picture it like this. It’s 2025 and you live in Te Atatū, or Browns Bay, or in one of the smart new apartments in Point England. Each morning you roll down to the jetty, not worried about the timetable because there’s a ferry every 15 minutes. A smart little e-ferry, designed and made right here in Auckland.

On the boat you do your emails, Facebook, whatever, or maybe you just look out the window because it’s peaceful on the water and you get an easy feeling. The city of 50-something volcanoes glides past, cliffs of soaring grace, pōhutukawa tumbling off headlands and beaches around every corner and the glittering, glorious Waitematā. Is there a better way to start the day? Or to end it?

The ferry delivers you to the new berths strung along Queens Wharf, where two or three dozen other boats just like yours are coming and going. There are people all around, enjoying the water’s edge, many of them on the new terraced steps on the other side of the wharf – built as a result of public pressure after council agencies stupidly revealed in 2018 that they were not going to allow water access in that area.

Not possible? Been to Brisbane? It’s a city with the same population as Auckland and it has fast, functional ferries that scoot up and down the river all the time.

It’s more than possible. Fullers360 wants to introduce new ferry berths at Millwater, Browns Bay, Takapuna, Wynyard Quarter, Mission Bay, Point England and Panmure. It wants to increase services to many of the 21 existing berths around the Waitematā. The company carries 6 million passengers a year now and by 2025 it plans to raise that to 9 million.

If ferries were fast, reliable and cost efficient everyone would want to use them. Photo / Janna Dixon

Actually, I think they’re being far too conservative. If ferries were fast, friendly, reliable and cost-efficient, who wouldn’t want to use them? Why not an East Coast Bays run that stops at 10 spots on that coast? Another along the beaches of the eastern suburbs and a third that trawls around the suburbs of the upper harbour?

For all that to happen, Auckland Transport, the Government and Ports of Auckland need to wrap their heads around the idea that ferries, for many Aucklanders, are deserving of support in the same way buses, trains and roads for private vehicles are now.

Not a nice to have, but an important strategic component in the growth of Auckland.

We could do more. Push a canal from Green Bay through to the Whau River right by the Avondale Racecourse, linking the Waitematā with the Manukau. Portage Rd in New Lynn, if you were wondering, has that name because it marks the route of a canal first proposed over 100 years ago.

Imagine if the council helped iwi develop a visitor centre at Māngere’s Ōtuataua Stonefields, a site whose history stretches back from 19th century farming to the start of the land wars, to pre-European pa life and all the way back to the Tainui canoe and the earliest landings in Aotearoa.

Imagine how cool it would be to get there by ferry, on an historic tour from downtown, up the Waitematā, through a portage canal and across the Manukau.

Best news of all? The boatbuilder McMullen & Wing want to make four fully electric ferries, right now, at its base on the Tamaki River in Mt Wellington.

Why only four? Because it has to start somewhere, and they can do four in time for Apec in 2021. Chief executive Michael Eaglen has a vision of the Prime Minister welcoming Apec leaders on board at the new terminal, showing off the smart, silent and zero-emissions fleet to the world.

It’s a grand vision, although it won’t happen quite as he dreams because, for security reasons, Apec leaders are not allowed to set foot on a boat.

But that’s a minor detail. E-ferries could happen soon and there’s no reason to stop at four.

“This,” said Eaglen at an event late last year , “is where New Zealand steps up from being merely beautiful to being a leader in green tech in the world.”

Clear the decks and give that man some more room.

“The benefits,” he said, “are less congestion, lower costs, better lives and a better climate.” And more pleasure in your commute, he should have added.

He said there was “a lot to do and no time to waste” and all it required was “partnership and will”.

What does that really mean? “It’s not the technology,” he told me. “We can do that. What we need is co-ordination: having the right wharves and terminals, and the appropriate subsidies.”

The good news is that the redevelopment of Queens Wharf will include capacity for charging electric boats. A vital first step, but there’s much more to do.

“The challenge is getting the big players together,” said Eaglen. “I don’t have any doubt it can happen but there isn’t an existing forum for it.”

Sounds like a job for the mayor to me. E-ferries showcased to the world by 2021, that would be brilliant. But someone has to make it happen.