Ferry service in spotlight

A Stewart Island businessman says the commercialisation of the island's ferry is separating the community. Photo: Southland Express files

A STEWART Island businessman says the commercialisation of the island’s ferry is hindering the only “life-link” between the island and mainland.

Last week, Rakiura Adventure Ltd and New Zealand Fish Ltd owner Manfred Herzhoff presented a proposal at the Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Board meeting, which called for the Real Journeys Stewart Island Ferry to become it would be covered by a Regional Public Transport Plan and under the regime and support of the New Zealand Transport Association (NZTA).

The outcome of this would be a non-commercial, non-profit-based and open-book operation for the essential service between the two communities and beyond, such as better connecting Stewart Island with Invercargill and other South Island hubs, Mr Herzhoff said.

“The ferry is the life-link for transport for the island and therefore, shouldn’t be run as a pure commercial enterprise by a private company.”

“In my opinion, it’s a service that should be controlled by the Stewart Island and Bluff communities.”

General gaps in affordability and a lack of regular services for islanders and workers were the two main reasons he was calling for change, he said.

“Locals pay too much and we need to acknowledge that.”

He argued while the distance to travel by ferry between Auckland and Waiheke Island was about the same as the distance between Bluff and Stewart Island, the cost to travel was a lot higher for those living and working on Stewart Island.

According to current Sealink fares, it would cost about $45 return for an adult from Auckland to Waiheke, while the Real Journeys Stewart Island ferry cost about $180 return for an adult from Bluff to Stewart Island.

“Waiheke residents, get for their transport, up to 50%-60% discount, while Stewart Islanders are lucky to get a 20% discount,” he said.

The Bluff and Stewart Island communities were being “separated by a ferry”, despite the fact “half of the Bluff population” had links to Stewart Island, Mr Herzhoff said.

“People are having to consider if it is worth the trip because they cannot afford it.”

He said locals and their business ventures were being “pushed aside” by big companies who did not care about them.

Although he did not believe the island ferry could be run independently of local government, the move from a private to a public transport scheme “had to be done”.

“We need to have a say in that service to link and connect the two communities.”

Southland District Council Stewart Island/Rakiura ward councillor Bruce Ford said the board would be seeking advice as to what moves “could and should” be made following the proposal.

“That’s not to say we’re ruling it out.”

Real Journeys general manager Paul Norris said the company had been approached by “regular commuters” about the need for two return sailings every day.

Currently, there were two return sailings from Thursday to Sunday and one return sailing from Monday to Wednesday.

Mr Norris said additional sailings were added if there was enough demand.

Stewart Island-based pupils and students travelled for free for sporting and other school events or to attend boarding school.

Real Journeys also provided 40% discount for residents and a 30% discount for ratepayers, he said.

The proposal would be discussed further at the community board’s meeting on October 12.bridge mediaTHE SNEAKER BULLETIN