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Friday, 28 November 2014

New Ferries for Sydney's Inner Harbour in 2016

Image sourced from Sydney Morning Herald
It is fitting that the design of new ferries for Sydney's inner harbour was announced today. The plucky First Fleet Class, designed by Australia's finest naval architect, Alan Payne, entered service on this day 30 years ago. 

The timing would not have been a coincidence.

What's more, the new design is very much a tribute to the classical boxy lines of our most iconic ferry, including the working boat style inverted windscreen, seating around the full circumference of the main deck (and upper deck in the new design).  And of course the green and cream livery.

The First Fleet ferry is to Sydney what the red double decker Routemaster bus is to London. It is part of the branding of Sydney. Minister Gladys Berejiklian clearly understands this and the economic benefits it brings to New South Wales(1).

Emotions aside, there are also practical considerations.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, six vessels will be built, with the first to go in service within two years. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/new-sydney-ferries-set-to-sail-from-2016-20141127-11v1yz.html The comment in the Herald that they will replace the First Fleeters is surprising as the original plan was to replace the older Lady Class boats and the troublesome SuperCats.   

One would hope the new design will be the standard for the inner harbour network, to avoid the inefficient hotch potch of vessel classes that currently operate and which drew sharp criticism from Brett Walker's commission of inquiry in 2007.

So if this is to be the new standard for inner harbour vessels, is the design the right one?

The detailed design has not yet been released, but we do know its maximum operating speed is faster than the First Fleeters. This is a good thing as it will cope with longer trips in open water to destinations like Rose Bay and Watsons Bay.  

It is also a large boat with a passenger capacity of 400. Under Uniform Sea Law, that could mean a minimum crew requirement of four, up from the three person crews in the current First Fleet vessels.

This rings some alarm bells. Brisbane ferries have operated a small boat/ high frequency strategy with great success.
Smaller ferries have reduced crewing requirements, are cheaper to run and the engineering requirements for wharf infrastructure are less demanding.

The Brisbane experience shows that smaller ferries operating at higher frequencies attract higher patronage and make a more economically efficient network.      

Issues of detail will emerge when the full plans are released. The image published in the Sydney Morning Herald shows two gangway gates, which is positive, but not the more advanced "fold down" gangways used on Brisbane Ferries where pontoons and vessel freeboards are equalised.  

One of the most serious shortcomings in the current network is the inefficient passenger loading technology.  Is there a plan to speed up passenger embarkation on Sydney Ferries? This has implications for the design of both vessels and wharves.


(1) Unfortunately, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) does not seem to have the same level of understanding and assesses the external benefit of ferries to be close to zero.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Integration of Barangaroo and Bays Precinct in Sydney's Ferry Network

Last week's post touched on how the ferry network could be extended to the Bays Precinct, an area west of the Sydney CBD, including Rozelle Bay and Glebe Island.

This week's post is about integrating the Bays Precinct and the new Barangaroo ferry terminal into the overall ferry network.

The Issue

A big improvement will be made to Sydney's CBD when the Wynyard Walk project completes in 2016. It will significantly enhance access to the centre of the city from its western edge, including the new ferry terminal at Barangaroo South.

Most people approaching the city from the west will find it easier to walk to their place of work from Barangaroo South, rather than Circular Quay. The current painfully slow navigation of multiple road crossings and pedestrian lights up Erskine Street will be replaced by a pleasant unimpeded six minute stroll to George Street in the heart of the city.

It will also provide easy access to Wynyard Station, a bigger interchange than Circular Quay station with more train lines.   

The ferry network must adapt to these new circumstances.

Accompanying this change is the urban renewal proposed for the Bays Precinct. Although decisions have not yet been taken, high density residential development is probable at Glebe Island. Rapid growth is already happening on the site of the old Harold Park at Glebe. Glebe Point residents can attest to the problems of commuting to the CBD by bus (some find it quicker to walk). Adding to the conga line of buses crossing ANZAC Bridge does not seem like a workable solution for future Glebe Island residents either.

A new ferry line from Glebe Point to Barangaroo, with stops at Glebe Island and Jacksons Landing at the Johnstons Bay side of Pyrmont would be a sound approach, complemented by an additional pedestrian bridge between Pyrmont and Barangaroo South.

Ferry commuters travelling from the western side of the CBD will also expect to have access to Barangaroo South. Currently those travelling from Woolwich, Greenwich, Birchgrove and Thames Street Balmain have no choice but to travel to Circular Quay.

Let's not forget that the CBD is just one of many destinations that people may have.

Public transport networks work best when lines are integrated and passengers find it easy to navigate their way to wherever they need to go, which is not necessarily just the CBD. That's why the best networks are multi-destinational.  

If you live at Glebe Point, Glebe Island or Jacksons Landing, you may want to go Milsons Point, Manly, Taronga Zoo or somewhere up the Parramatta River. The network should maximise the connection between origin-destination pairs, with convenient timed transfers between lines.

The Solution

Making Barangaroo and the Bays Precinct part of an Integrated Regular Interval ferry network offers the most efficient solution with the best outcomes for passengers:
  • Regular Interval means strict adherence to clockface headways in the timetable, all day/ seven days a week.
  • Integrated means co-ordinating arrivals and departures at network nodes to provide convenient timed transfers. 
    A possible new design for the Sydney Ferry network
The solution proposed here is to make the Glebe Point line an extension of the Darling Harbour (F4) line. It also extends in the other direction to Taronga Zoo via Circular Quay, avoiding the need for zoo goers to change at Circular Quay. Neutral Bay through lines with Double Bay and convenient timed transfers are scheduled at Circular Quay between the Manly, Darling Harbour, Mosman, Neutral Bay, Double Bay and Taronga Zoo lines. Convenient timed transfers are also scheduled between the Parramatta River and Watsons Bay lines. 

A new stop is also proposed at Elizabeth Bay on the Double Bay line.

The Glebe Point line would operate at 30 minute intervals all day, consistent with the existing Darling Harbour line. Frequency in the peaks could be increased to 15 minute intervals if demand was sufficient.

As an example of how ferries could assist the mobility of, say, residents of Glebe Island, here is a table showing examples of ferry journey times from this location to other destinations in the ferry network.   

Journey times from Glebe Island to sample of destinations in proposed new ferry network.
 The Benefits

Under the current ferry timetable, just 96 origin-destination pairs can be connected conveniently all day, seven days a week. That’s 16% of the total possible OD pairs. Because of the integration inherent in this proposal, convenient OD pair connections increase to 395, a four fold increase.

The other good news is that, while service hours will increase by 11% (funding for ferry services is mainly based on the time vessels operate timetabled services), the increase in farebox revenue will exceed the additional operating costs. This is because the improved usability of the network will drive significant patronage growth, especially in off peak periods.

Hard to believe, but a well designed ferry network providing quality public transport for the Bays Precinct can lead to a reduction in Government subsidies for Sydney Ferries.  

Friday, 7 November 2014

A Solution to the Pyrmont - Barangaroo Access Problem

Source: Barangaroo Delivery Authority
The Barangaroo development on the western side of Sydney's CBD is progressing at a pace. Observers have correctly pointed out that better access is needed between Pyrmont and Barangaroo, especially as the existing pedestrian access at Pyrmont Bridge is already close to capacity.

As often happens, various "creative" ideas are thrown up as possible solutions. The Sydney Business Chamber has proposed a cable car to connect the two precincts. Maybe this is a joke, but then Sydney did get a monorail in 1988 which lasted 25 years before everyone realised that was a joke too.

The sensible option would be to build another pedestrian bridge with a dedicated cycling lane. The area occupied by the current Sydney Ferries wharf at Darling Harbour will be vacated in 2016 when a new wharf is built 200 metres north at Barangaroo South. The bridge could connect from the old ferry wharf to Pyrmont Wharf 7, adjacent to the Sydney Heritage Fleet.

This would provide easy access for pedestrians from Pyrmont to connect with both Barangaroo South and the Wynyard Walk.

From a ferry network perspective, this would remove the need to have a stop at Pyrmont Bay. Instead, a new line could be added from Barangaroo to Glebe Point, with intermediate stops at Jacksons Landing and Glebe Island. The Glebe Island stop would be subject to demand arising from whatever development is made as part of the Bays Precinct renewal program.

Continuing the line further to Annandale is also possible, as well as an additional stop near Jones Bay at the northern end of Pyrmont.

The distance by water from Glebe Island to Barangaroo is not great - only 2.5 km - but would be painfully slow if current 4 knot speed restrictions continue in Rozelle Bay. A little flexibility is needed from Roads and Maritime Services to increase this to 8 knots. This would provide competitive transit times to Barangaroo for passengers currently poorly served by public transport:
  • 8 minutes from Jacksons Landing
  • 11 minutes from Glebe Island
  • 15 minutes from Glebe Point.
Another benefit is that the existing Circular Quay - Darling Harbour line would have a more manageable cycle time of 60 minutes if it did not make the diversion to Pyrmont Bay, as it currently does.