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Friday, 29 August 2014

What drives patronage - speed, frequency or fares? Part 1: Rose Bay and Manly

Sydney Ferries recorded impressive patronage growth of 6.9% in 2013-14, making it the second fastest growing public transport mode in Sydney (behind light rail).

But has the commuter market grown or did last year's long dry spell bring out more leisure and other off peak travellers?

Every six months, a census is taken of all Sydney Ferry boardings and disembarkations over one week. The information is captured in detail (down to individual wharf and service) and reported by the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics www.bts.nsw.gov.au/Statistics/Ferry/default.aspx .

Leisure numbers are strongly affected by seasonal factors and weather. But commuter patronage in the AM peaks is more consistent. This makes it possible to speculate about the impact of timetable or fare changes on these services, by comparing the same week across years.

Data from the November 2013 census has just been released. Two major policy changes happened between November 2012 and 2013:

  • Rules were changed for the periodical ticket product "MyMulti". Before 1 September 2013, all ferry passengers could use a MyMulti 1 ticket. This was changed to the more expensive MyMulti 2 for Inner Harbour ferry passengers and to the highest priced MyMulti 3 for Manly ferry passengers. Bus users were not affected. 
  • Significant changes to ferry timetables, mainly affecting the Parramatta River and Eastern Suburbs, were implemented in October 2013.
MyMulti 1 tickets were popular with regular Manly Ferry commuters.  The change lifted the price of weekly MyMulti tickets for these passengers from $44 to $61, an increase of 39%.

So what happened to patronage?

For the sake of brevity, this analysis focuses on AM commuter peak passengers from Manly and Rose Bay, plus the aggregate AM peak.  A review of the Parramatta River will follow in Part 2 in three weeks time (when the author returns from a holiday).
A proxy measure for regular work commuters is the count of passengers who catch ferries terminating at the CBD terminals by 9.00 am on week-days.    

Mean daily boardings on services arriving Circular Quay at or before 9.00 am (week-days)

The Manly timetable was the same in both years, but passengers were affected by the MyMulti ticket changes. Almost 15% fewer passengers caught the Manly Ferry in the AM commuter peak in the last week of November 2013, compared to the same week in 2012. That's a drop of 254 passengers each morning, or the equivalent of six additional busloads on Military Road. 

Rose Bay figures are the big surprise. Rose Bay peak services were supplemented in the October 2013 timetable changes, moving from 30 to 20 minute headways. But the additional capacity has not been matched by increased patronage. Total AM peak numbers actually dropped almost 9%. Perhaps Rose Bay commuters who need to change modes at Circular Quay are using other transport options in response to the MyMulti ticket revamp. 

The apparent drop in AM commuter peak numbers is not limited to Rose Bay and Manly. The data shows that passengers arriving at Circular Quay and the other main destination wharves on week-days at or before 9.00 am were down 9.6% on the same week in November 2012. 
Mean daily disembarkations at main destinations at or before 9.00 am (week-days)


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