Hearings on the Regional Public Transport Plan started today and while I will probably cover this in more detail tomorrow, it is probably worth addressing the article in the Herald today. Of the more than 700 submissions the one that they decide to pick out is from a ferry company whining about trains, and to a lesser extent buses.
Auckland ferry operator Sealink says trains are gobbling up too much public money, depriving the two-harbour city of superior water transport.
It claims in a submission to Auckland Transport that billions of dollars are going to the least efficient transport service – one “generally located in the least desirable parts” of the city.
“Auckland’s defining feature is its maritime environment and ferries historically played a far more significant role in the city’s public transport than they do currently,” the submission says.
Sealink managing director Todd Bolton told the Herald that 70 per cent of Aucklanders lived within 3km of the coast.
The company wants Auckland Transport to back a wider network of passenger ferries to reach suburbs such as Howick and St Heliers in the east and Browns Bay and Takapuna to the north.
It also proposes circular routes in Waitemata Harbour similar to successful operations in Sydney, and vehicle ferries to Wynyard Wharf or Mechanics Bay from Devonport, Bayswater and Birkenhead.
“With relatively little effort and expenditure, certainly in comparison to the [$2.86 billion underground] City Rail Link, many vehicles can be taken off the severely congested choke point of the harbour bridge.”
The comment about Auckland being a water city gets brought up fairly frequently but the more you look at it, you realise that it doesn’t necessarily make ferries the best solution. For PT to be effective it needs to be both frequent while at least a bit competitive with other modes and looking at a map there aren’t really any serious locations where that may be possible. Many of the ferries that run currently tend to be focused on only running during the peak and outside of that the level of service is so infrequent it is not able to be relied on for PT. Sealink then point out that the cost recovery for ferries in total is much higher than either bus or train but that is due to that peak running and even just upgrading our existing ferry network to have frequent services (i.e. at least one service every 15 minutes) would involve substantial investment from both a capital and operating expenditure standpoint. Expanding out to new wharfs would increase these issues even further and that is before you even consider that probably most of the easy to service routes are already covered.
Ferries also have another huge disadvantage, like all other forms of PT people have to be able to get to them and we will need as many people as possible close to them to get patronage numbers up. By their very nature though half of their catchment is not able to be developed for people to live in as it is water which makes it that much harder to get patronage. One last comment from me on this, Sealink say that 70% of all people in Auckland live within 3km of the coast. That’s a pretty broad brush and do they honestly think that people will travel 3km just to use a ferry service?
But putting all of the above to the side, where could we actually run new ferry services to, here is part of a guest post that was submitted to us by reader Louis on the issue.
Ferries do not play much of an “everyday” role in public transit in most cities. They do have many disadvantages over land based modes of transport, including their relatively slow speed, lack of coverage and poor accessibility, not to mention that some people are put off by fear of sea sickness. Ferries are also more likely to be cancelled due to foul weather and are more suited to more direct routes, without stops, as docking can be slow.
In saying that, ferries can be very useful. They do have an appeal of comfort that buses cannot match and are the most scenic way to travel. They have their own right of way and will not get caught up in traffic. They also can take more direct routes than by land, for example the 12 minute ferry crossing is by far the quickest way to get to Devonport. It’s also much easier to take your bike on the ferry, than on the bus. I think ferries do have some potential in Auckland, a city with a long association with the sea, to develop as a convenient way of transport. Modern ferries are more stable and faster.
It would be very interesting to see data comparing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions between ferries and road transport.
I was thinking of possible places where routes could be expanded, I have marked existing services in red, the new Hobsonville Point / Beach Haven stops in blue, and future stops in Green.
Western Harbour area:
Currently there is one ferry service between Downtown and Westpark Marina. However next week a new ferry service, operated by 360 Discovery will begin between Downtown, Beach Haven, and Hobsonville Point. The downside is the poor frequency – only two return services each weekday (none on weekends), and the high fares. I would like to see a half decent all day frequency, say once an hour. Adding a stop somewhere around Island Bay could be worth considering.
I think a ferry service to Te Atatu could be a winner. It would be faster and more relaxing than going via road in peak hours. Ferries to Point Chevalier have also be suggested in the past, however that would be impractical in my opinion and unlikely to be faster than land transport.
Mission Bay / Saint Heliers:
There have been suggestions of ferry services to Mission Bay and Saint Heliers. I am not sure this would be a great idea, as it would require new wharves to be built. I worry about the major disruption to recreational swimmers,etc. But it would provide a useful service.
There has been talk about new ferry services along the Tamaki Estuary. Stops could be at Glendowie, Bucklands Beach, Point England, Farm Cove and Panmure. I cannot see this working very well to be honest. The service would be extremely slow and I suspect that the train would be a faster option for residents of Glen Innes and Panmure and for Bucklands Beach, a short feeder bus ride to Half Moon Bay. Also the estuary is very tidal and would probably require expensive dredging. A better option would be to improve frequencies on the existing Half Moon Bay run.
Howick / Beachlands:
Including a Howick stop on the current Pine Harbour / Beachlands run would be very useful. But I think the costs and inconvenience of building a wharf at Howick would be prohibitive. Once again, an improved frequency would be good to see.
East Coast Bays:
Ferries along the East Coast Bays have the disadvantage of not being as competitive with roads. A service to Takapuna would be nice, but a new wharf would cause great disruption to boaties, swimmers and so on. Other possibles could include Mairangi Bay, but that can be exposed to large waves when the wind blows from the Northeast. Murrays Bay is also an option, but the existing wharf would probably not be suitable for a ferry service.
Further north there is more potential. A service to Browns Bay could work very well and would be far more appealing than sitting in traffic. It could be included as a stop on the Gulf Harbour route, with a boosted frequency.
So as you can see, while there are a number of opportunities for expanding services, I think the most opportunity could be gained by improving existing services, in two ways:
1) Integrated fares: It is extremely disappointing to hear that ferries will not be included in the integrated fares scheme. Personally I think that would be a mistake. Ferries have a problem that a lot of their walk up catchment area is the sea, so have a greater reliance on feeder buses to deliver passengers, something that becomes unappealing when one has to pay to change services. I see no good reason why ferries should be priced at a premium rate, they should be included in the zonal system.
2) Improving frequencies: As I mentioned above, frequencies on ferries are currently very poor. I think we need services every 15 minutes on the Devonport run and half hourly off peak services on most other routes. This would be a great way to get a larger patronage base, as it could be relied on as being reasonably frequent.