While up to date Opal journey data is accessible on the Transport for NSW website, official ferry patronage numbers for 2017-18 are not yet available. The official patronage figures are higher because patronage includes an estimate of non-ticketed journeys, untapped school student travel and integrated ticketing special event travel.
Line comparisons are difficult to make because of network changes introduced in November 2017:
- Journeys to and from Double Bay, Darling Point and Garden Island are now on a separate line from other Eastern Suburbs stops (Watsons Bay and Rose Bay).
- Services to Watsons Bay and Rose Bay are part of the new Cross Harbour route, a "through line" which incorporates the former Darling Harbour route.
- The Cockatoo Island line is now formally separated from the Parramatta River line.
Growth is strongest on the Taronga Zoo and Cross Harbour lines, with patronage increasing 12.9% and 11.8% respectively. An increase of 5.8% was achieved on the Parramatta River and Cockatoo Island lines combined.
The declines were reported for Mosman (down 7.7%), Manly (down 6.3%) and Neutral Bay (down 1.0%).
We can only speculate on what's driving the ups and downs, especially as more granular level data has not been published. Up to date counts of week-ends v. week-days, or changes in AM peak numbers, are not available, a situation I bemoaned in a post last year.
My guess is that there are three key issues affecting demand:
- Tourist ferry journeys are up, in line with the general upswing in Sydney tourism numbers. This is suggested by the growth on the Taronga Zoo and Cross Harbour lines, both of which are predominantly tourist routes.
- Manly, although another tourist dominated route, is continuing to lose ground to the Manly Fast Ferry which has increased frequency in the peak and off peak in the last few years.
- Mosman and Neutral Bay are almost exclusively non-tourist lines and they may still be suffering from the general sluggishness in commuter numbers which followed the discontinuation of periodical fares, which was mainly to the disadvantage of regular ferry riders.