The Government has renewed the multi-million dollar contract subsidising Waiheke Island ferry tickets for SuperGold card carriers, but a document obtained under the Official Information Act shows the subsidy is displacing ordinary fare payers. 

The document also reveals the Government has also allowed Fullers to quietly extend the period in which off-peak SuperGold card discount applies — but only by 10 minutes. The documents also note that SuperGold cards “regularly displace fare paying passengers” on some services. 

Adult tickets for the Waiheke Island ferry currently cost $40, but SuperGold card carriers can travel for free during off-peak times, thanks to a generous government subsidy. 

The SuperGold subsidy of the expensive ferry service has been controversial from the start.

The Government spends roughly $2 million a year subsidising the service, representing the biggest single spend to be paid for from SuperGold’s $28 million budget. 

Earlier this year, the Spinoff used Hop card data to show that just 100 SuperGold card holders claimed over $400,000 of free rides in less than two years. The article alleged they were likely to be wealthy commuters. 

A document given to Transport Minister Phil Twyford obtained by Newsroom under the Official Information Act notes the contract, currently held by operator Fullers, expired on June 30, 2018. 

The new contract with Fullers will run until 2021/22. 

Multi-million dollar contract

The service doesn’t come cheap. Steven Joyce cited the excessive costs of the Waiheke ferry subsidy as a reason for his 2010 review of the SuperGold scheme. But intense lobbying saw Joyce back down before the review could even get off the ground. 

The previous government eventually managed to cap the cost of the scheme. In 2015 it announced the subsidy for the fares to Matiatia on Waiheke Island would be capped at $1.6 million, while fares to Devonport would be capped at $435,770. 

The caps rise with inflation. Last year they stood at $2.1 million collectively. The contract commits Fullers to operating within the funding cap until 2021/2022. 

Subsidy boosts traffic — and pushes out fare-paying passengers 

The document notes the number of SuperGold passengers using the ferry has increased more than 10 percent since the funding cap was introduced in 2015.

While the service is meant to operate in off-peak hours, GoldCard passengers have been allowed to board ferries using their cards at 8.50am, in advance of the 9am sailing.

This justification for extending the hours of the scheme is if passengers waited until the GoldCard travel period began at 9am, the first ferry they would be able to catch would not leave until 9.30am. 

NZTA has allowed what it calls a “10 minute buffer” for councils to apply to SuperGold fares. However the Government will review the application of the buffer scheme next year. 

It’s application to the Waiheke Island ferry will do little to assuage criticism that the service is being used by commuters. 

The buffer may also be contributing to congestion on the ferries.

The briefing notes that increased GoldCard traffic in the summer had lead to “mid-morning and weekend users regularly displac[ing] fare-paying passengers”.

Fullers and Phil Twyford were approached for comment. 

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