Auckland ferry commuters not convinced cruise ship stand-down will fix delays

Ferry on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour.
Ferry on Auckland's Waitematā Harbour. Photo credit: Fullers/Facebook

By Maia Ingoe of RNZ

Auckland ferry commuters are not convinced that an extended stand-down period for cruise ships entering the harbour will ease the annual bouts of cancellations and delays.

Ports of Auckland is extending the evening black-out period, setting an extra hour when cruise ships can not move through Waitematā Harbour, giving ferries the right of way.

But without a longer morning stand-down to go with it, ferry commuters are worried they still will not get to work on time.

The cruise ship industry is important for Auckland, with Tiaki Auckland estimating each passenger spends more than $700 a day while in the region.

But that is little comfort for ferry passengers - since the start of the year, Auckland Transport has recorded 225 ferry services cancelled because of cruise ships.

Ferry commuters from Devonport and Gulf Harbour are not impressed.

"How many times?" one said of the cancellations.

Commuters said they had noticed many cancellations, and they were feeling frustrated.

"Especially when they cancel them for the cruise liners at six in the morning.

"When it's affecting commuters trying to get home for families, it makes it quite awkward."

Cruise ships use bow thrusters to help manoeuvre the vessel - but that also caused a dangerous current, preventing smaller ferries from sailing.

To get ferries moving on the water, there is a cruise ship black-out twice a day on Princes Wharf, giving ferries right of way.

It is currently between 6:30am and 9:05am in the morning; and 4:30pm and 6:05pm in the evening.

From next cruise season in August, it will be extended for an extra hour in the evening, until 7pm.

But some ferry commuters doubt that will help.

"Most probably not - I'd say I would already be across the Waitemata by then, and it's more so in the morning I find the issues."

But others were hopeful it will reduce cancellations.

"Yes, definitely - it's between 4:30pm and 7pm when most people are grabbing the ferries."

Port of Auckland chief executive Roger Gray said it was highly unusual for cruise ships to break the black-out period.

"We are very, very strict on the time compliance. Normally the reason that there's cancellation is because there's been an issue or an incident, or the ships come in and it's had to use its bow thrusters to go alongside."

Twenty-nine departures in this season's scheduled cruise sailings would be affected by the new evening extension.

North Shore Ward councillor Chris Darby said cruise companies breaching the blackout could be tolerated if it was an emergency.

"We do not accept any berthing within those black out periods that should not be occurring in the period."

Darby wanted the morning black-out also extended.

"That is a focus of mine now. We need to resolve that period, and get the manoeuvre blackout extended I would say starting at 5-6 am, Monday to Friday."

But Gray said while he was working on it, he could not promise a longer cruise black-out for morning commuters.

"We're going to have some discussions with the lines, as well, to see how we can potentially, practically, extend the a.m. window to earlier, but I'm not sure if it's feasible at this stage, but it's something we're working on."

There have been more than 350,000 cruise passengers in Auckland this season, more than a 50 percent increase since last year, and Port of Auckland expected the next cruise season to be even bigger.

But unless more is done to help ferries cross the harbour, that was not good news for ferry commuters, who just want to get to work and home on time.