The battle for passengers on the Waiheke ferry service is about to heat up - much to the relief of many who say the current Fullers service is just not reliable enough to get them to and from the island.
New rival company Explore will offer 12 sailings a day from this weekend and give passengers an alternative to Fullers, which has been going through a difficult period with several vessels out of action.
No details were available last night on just how competitive Explore's services and prices would be.
A spokesman said Explore was still finalising details and awaiting Auckland Transport approval to begin sailings on Saturday.
This would consist of running ferries between Auckland's Downtown ferry terminal to Waiheke Island 12 times a day, catering for the large number of commuters to and from the island.
Two boats would operate initially, led by Explore's flagship vessel D5. Another new boat, D6, will be added to the fleet before the end of the year to boost capacity during the busy summer months.
Explore chief executive Kit Nixon said the company had 15 years' experience in tourism in Auckland and was best known for its fleet of sailing boats on Waitemata Harbour.
Explore's catamaran D5 had been refurbished to give a sleek and comfortable ride and travellers would be able to recharge their mobile devices and laptops. The vessel would eventually be equipped with wi-fi.
Mr Nixon promised "great value" fares across the board, including a 42-trip pass for Waiheke residents, commuters and frequent travellers which would roll over to the next month if a customer did not use up all their days.
Customers could reserve a spot on a specific sailing to guarantee them a seat.
The public of Waiheke will know better whether or not they will patronise the new service once fares become known. If Explore ferries are significantly cheaper and offer the same or superior levels of comfort and facilities as Fullers they will attract custom. If these new customers find their cheaper fares become expensive once they take into account having to pay full fare on Fullers out of commuting times then the deal will not look so attractive.
I’m not sure if reservations are a good thing. It will limit supply and what if customers don’t turn up? Will seats be left empty or unavailable to other passengers?
Fullers chief executive Douglas Hudson said it was going through a difficult fortnight with vessels Quickcat, Superflyte, Kea and Adventurer out of action and the delivery voyage of a new vessel delayed by weather.
He had not seen details of the rival's offering.
"But it's a competitive environment, Auckland harbour always has been and we have a lot of investment in plant and buses on Waiheke Island and we will continue to provide a comprehensive and reliable service."
Mr Hudson said the company had spent more than $10 million on building a new vessel, Te Kotuku, which would join the fleet in mid-October, and the company had also bought a near-new vessel.
"We have plenty of capacity - more than before."
Standing room only on the ferry sailing yesterday morning has Waiheke Island commuter Becs Ballard welcoming news of an alternative service starting from Saturday.
I think it's great and they will get a lot of business," said Ms Ballard, who travels daily to Auckland City for work as a product designer with Vodafone.
"And it's really expensive too, compared with what passengers pay for the other islands' ferry routes," she said.
"It's $355 a month and comparable journey lengths are $200.
This is a local board that wants everyone to use buses, bicycles and park and ride. It has done nothing to ease the parking problems at Matiatia and, if Explore is a success, it will encourage more people to come to the island and worsen the situation at Matiatia.
For all the whinging and moaning of some commuters and members of our Local Board there are many on the island who appreciate the service Fullers provides. We have an hourly ferry all day and most of the night every day of the year with a bus service geared to get customers to and from each and every ferry sailing. I seriously doubt whether their service will be matched by Explore. Fullers is a major sponsor of Waiheke events, sports teams and does much to help the less fortunate members of the community. It will take Explore a long time to win over a loyal community but competitive pricing will help their cause with commuters.