Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bluebridge Cookstraight Ferries.

A graphic portrayal of how NZ will succeed and a compelling argument against Governments trying to run business

In a farming career spanning both main Islands for over fifty years Cook Straight has been a major influence in that journey.

Commercial and social needs were in the early decades completely dominated by the monopoly of the State run New Zealand Rail and frustration was a common theme.

One of the biggest and most frustrating came in late summer 1980 when we were moving our farming operation from North Canterbury to the Wairarapa.
Taking two vehicles to Picton we continued to Masterton with one to leave it there and return by Bus and ferry to the other and continue the task of relocation.
Masterton had one of those days,  hotter than yesterday's as we journeyed south on our current trip with a three o'clock temperature, a tar melting 30 plus degrees.
In 1980 we traveled south in a very basic coach of NZRRS and arrived at the Wellington terminal in plenty of time to catch the ferry but when we pulled up the driver, obviously in the loop, asked us all to remain on the sweltering bus while he went inside the terminal, returning in minutes,  without much embarrassment informed those of us intending to sail on the ferry would need to find accommodation as the Cooks and Stewards had a need to make a further point in their continuing battle with the spineless state servant managers and all sailings were cancelled for however long it took.
A long hot night in a very average hotel, it was 1980 and Wellington had a lot like us competing for a bed, we went to another monopoly, Air NZ the following morning to get home.
Swmbo could only get a seat to CHC while I fortunately managed one to Woodbourne that enabled me to retrieve the second vehicle from Picton drive to CHC pick her up and return to our now being vacated North Canterbury farmbase.
Thereby lies another little anecdote associated with why the Government should never be allowed to operate any commercial entity, in the seat that could have been there for Mrs Gravedodger, next to me on the hop across the straight, was a Lufthansa hostess travelling on a 10% normal fare that I understood were only to be allocated at that heavily discounted rate if no full paying passenger required it.  With legs up to her waist and looks that would make any pimply faced clerk wobble at the knees, it was no contest.

Back to the main thrust of this post, that little expensive hiccup but one of many by the forerunner to kiwirail, they also managed to "lose" a wagon of farm hardware for three weeks by sending it to Marton rather than Masterton, an easy mistake I completely understand they both have M as a starting point, where it languished for some three weeks, its whereabouts a complete mystery to all involved. When they finally managed to get it to Masterton pressure was immediately applied with no regard for their omissions for us to empty it although their errors had caused considerable disruption to our planning.
That was just a cost of doing business with a government owned and controlled commercial entity being manipulated by a plethora of unions with 'management possessing absolutely zero understanding on matters of commercial reality and good customer relationships within such management at all levels.

In 1992 however there was a total rearrangement of the way things were, when Jim Barker and his partners in Otorohanga Transport decided he could and would smash the sickening commercial reality handbrake on the NZ economy with its total dependence on a union dominated clogged artery between the two islands.
Jim and his heroic partners started with a glorified barge to take livestock from Wellington to Picton and back in open deck pens with many hurdles placed by sympathetic equally monopoly driven minions at every opportunity.
But they did it and it just grew and grew, better vessels and finally some better facilities onshore from Wellington and Marlborough ports.
In 1992 with the arrival of The Santa Regina the pioneers entered the higher public profile, passenger market so ruthlessly exploited by The Interislander except that customers were front and center rather than glossy imaging via the mass media.
Word of mouth and building commercial relationships with many focus groups saw my NZ Motor Caravan Association gain discounted travel concessions across the well documented as one of the most challenging bits of water in the world.
Of course just as with the ill fated entry of Ansett Australia to our aviation market, when someone takes on the monopoly and in particular a state owned entity I immediately give them a fair go and if they deliver, they earn my loyalty.

So it was yesterday when our now somewhat chaos influenced planning ability comes up against reality, I booked a crossing on-line with Bluebridge as a return leg from a NI sojourn of nearly a month.
Since a certain Mr Parkinson came to live with us,  making plans for the future is only what would be nice at best. So having obtained a redeye ticket to return to Picton with my much preferred carrying company Bluebridge, but a cabin, always desirable in our new relationship with 'Parky' a  much needed addition for enjoyable travel not available on line, it was beyond description, my relief when the always very helpful and considerate customer focused staff of Bluebridge managed to give swmbo and moi a cabin with the added advantage of boarding early at midnight for the 0230 sailing and sleep until 0530 when the wake up  call came to disembark at 0600.

While Kiwirail continues to attempt to compete, often without the success that the current operators of the alternate provider of cross straight travel enjoy, with the constraint of profitability always at the forefront of  their efforts, Bluebridge will enjoy my wholehearted support as long as they survive without that oh so nice government backstop enjoyed by their SOE competition.
A good mate on hearing of our short notice needs and special requirements for the return south, was mystified that The SOE option was not canvassed and is probably still wondering at my avoidance of what he saw as a viable alternative.
Well you see, when a company and its shop window staff give me the clear impression that the customer matters, such attitudes will continue to enjoy a blind loyalty from me without question.
While the government guaranteed SOE  continue to only respond to the innovation and commercial creativeness of Bluebridge with their very highly regarded Cooks Straight Ferries, Kiwirail, protected at all times by that "too big to fail" mantra might have advantage of image but delivery with their travails of breakdowns and sullen arrogant staff response will always be merely  a backup to my getting across the water.

Go Bluebridge you good things.


The Veteran said...

GD ... your post reminds me of the six years I spent commuting from Auckland to Wgtn and further afield per courtesy of Ansett. Most of that time Air NZ was playing catch up.

Before Ansett came on the scene it was a walk across the tarmac. Ansett introduced air-bridges.

Before Ansett there were no meals or drinks on domestic aircraft (luke warn cups of tea/coffeee excluded).

Before Ansett there were no domestic lounges.

I well remember too travelling on the overnight ferry where you had to virtually bribe a steward to get a drink.

And you're so right. You could mark your calender in anticipation of the cooks and stewards going on strike during the school holidays.

Competition changed all of that and thank goodness.

Chris Bird said...

We now travel only on Bluebridge after going on the Interislander as well probably 50/50, but that all changed after the incidents with ships breaking down about 12 months ago.
we have had nothing but praise for Bluebridge staff and ships, although Santa Regina is a bit average the Straitsman is a great ship.
And, living near Picton we hear some stories about maintenance on interislander vessels,and the local company they use leave a lot to be desired.
It is interesting to note that prior to the disruptions last year it was very easy to get a booking on Bluebridge, but now there seems to be a lot more people traveling with this company. Best wishes to Bluebridge and long may they sail in these waters.

Nookin said...

Interislander wifi is $4 to purchase.
Bluebrige is free.

$4 is not much to pay but we had a sailing with 800 car passenger (plus non-vehicle passengers).

Who is going to both queuing once you have found a seat?

Small thing but it will influence my decision in the future.

Nookin said...


"..bother queuing..."

Paulus said...

I commuted Wellington to Auckland at least twice a week for over a year and always booked Ansett.
When there was a special the girls rang me and changed all my outstanding tickets for the specials.
I booked tickets in bulk a best terms possible.

Edward the Confessor said...

Hang on, why didn't you just take both cars across in one trip? Didn't occur to you?

pdm said...

GD this post reminds me of a story I was told in the Crow Tavern in Picton when we lived there in 1981/part of 82.

A large tree stump was loaded onto a railway wagon in Picton as a joke and attached to a set of wagons to be loaded onto one of the Ferries. Apparently/allegedly that tree stump crossed the strait at least 6 times before someone senior in railways or the Harbour Board decided to get rid of it.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...


That sounds like the sort of stuff you'll find in Richard Prebble's highly amusing book 'Ive Been Thinking.'

gravedodger said...

confuser is irredeemably dense.
maybe we might have no use for the one we left in the north and maybe we still needed the other in the south.

If confuser had a skerrik of intelligence or a modicum of understanding of the practical side of making ones way through the small business cycle he would not have needed to even make such a supercilious statement.

I used to wonder where confuser drove his little pine desk in the basement of a government department now it seems more likely he just drives a sofa to and from WINZ.

Calling Confuser a troll is unforgivably denigrating to all those so much more advanced in the world trolls inhabit, so there stands his effort for history to ponder.