By Tony Stickley
Campaigners pushing for free travel for the elderly on the Whitianga Ferry are hoping that a new council with a new mayor will help boost their cause.
For the past six years Marguerite Muellers has been battling for pensioners to be able to use their SuperGold Card on the short crossing to Ferry Landing.
But she says that time and again she has come up against a brick wall with the Thames-Coromandel District Council, the Waikato Regional Council and the Mercury Bay Community Board as she tried to press for part of the SuperGold bulk funding to be directed Whitianga’s way.
“No-one seems to know who is responsible, though it is a transport issue, so that would be the WRC.
“They have just flicked it backwards and forwards for years. So do they even know themselves?
“One thing is sure…no-one wants to pay,” said Marguerite.
A counsellor and psychotherapist in Whitianga for 30 years, Marguerite said that aged people were suffering genuine harm as a result of the continuing impasse in getting free ferry travel included as one of the SuperGold advantages.
“I have seen it first-hand when I was working for Thames Hospital and had to do an assessment over in Ferry Landing. “I would go to the homes of elderly people to see what their needs were.
“They were stuck in their homes unable to go anywhere.
“They had no car, no driving licence because they were too old and they had no financial means to get out. “They became depressed and catatonic,” Marguerite said.
She said that some old folk were not able to get to Whitianga to do their shopping, visit friends and family, visit family graves in the cemetery at Ferry Landing or make it to doctors’ appointments.
“Because they miss their appointments, they are falling back onto the mental health system and health service generally, all because of their incapacity to have any form of transport,” said Marguerite.
She said that she had letters from local doctors and social workers supporting the campaign.
One recently retired GP said that there had been “many occasions” when patients were either delayed or unable to attend surgery because they were unable to meet the cost of transport.
Marguerite said it was scandalous that pensioners in Auckland could go for a joy-ride to Waiheke Island for the day on the SuperGold card, but some elderly in Mercury Bay could not even get to the doctor’s.
Her push to have the SuperGold Card concession on the ferry is supported by Grey Power, the Whitianga Residents Ratepayers Association, by their counterparts in Kuaotunu as well as by local MP Scott Simpson.
Marguerite says she takes heart from the fact that the new Mayor of TCDC, Len Salt, wrote to her in May last year when he was chairman of the Whitianga Residents and Ratepayers Association saying: “We fully support your efforts and wish you every success.”
He was also Vice President of Grey Power at that time.
“I am very confident that he will come to the party now that he is Mayor,” said Marguerite.
“I am sure he is a man of his word and I am expecting to get support from him.”
Marguerite is renewing her call for the TCDC’s “Positive Ageing Strategy” to be included in the Regional Public Transport Plan.
“It is a right for the elderly to have access to transport so as not to be disadvantaged with all the unfortunate consequences that that brings,” she said.
Marguerite referred to a Waikato Regional Council email from chief financial officer, Mike Garrett to TCDC councillor Clyde Graf when she first started her ferry campaign six years ago.
Mr Garrett wrote: “It is important to note that Council now receives its SuperGold funding from the Government as bulk funding and we do not have any ability to secure new additional funding.”
Marguerite queries why none of this SuperGold bulk funding manages to filter its way down to Whitianga.
“The money from WRC always ends up somewhere else.
“It seems that the funding is unequally distributed from the time it goes to Waikato.
“By the time it comes to Whitianga, there is nothing left,” she said.
Local Grey Power President Merle Edwards said the ferry provided a necessary link between Whitianga and the residential areas on the other side of the estuary.
Many elderly Whitianga residents wanted to visit their deceased relatives’ graves in the cemetery at Ferry Landing.
Sadly, with the onset of age, she said, using a car was no longer an option fort some.
“The ferry is their only method of transport to make the cemetery, which with ever rising costs, is proving expensive when the government pension is their sole income.
“I often get complaints that it is so unfair that people can use their Gold Card to travel to places like Waiheke Island or train trips to get to their nearest city, while we here in Whitianga cannot use our card to lay flowers on a loved one’s grave,” Merle said.
Caption : Marguerite Muellers