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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Balmain East - are too many berthings barely enough, or are they just too many?

Plans for the new ferry terminal at Barangaroo include a big rise in ferry frequencies on the Darling Harbour (F4)Line. Week-day AM peak departures from Barangaroo will increase from two per hour to six per hour in 2016. Week-end peak departures will increase from three per hour to eight per hour.
The Barangaroo terminal can probably manage 7.5 minute headways for the Darling Harbour Line. But what are the implications for other Darling Harbour line stops, especially if all initiatives in the Sydney's Ferry Future plan are taken into account? Currently all services on the Darling Harbour Line also stop in both directions at Milsons Point, McMahons Point and Balmain East.  

The Ferry Future plan was released by the NSW Government in May 2013. A close reading shows a significant change to the role of Balmain East wharf, currently a quiet little place with two berthings per hour on week-days in the direction of Darling Harbour and two per hour in the direction of Circular Quay. The Ferry Future vision is that it becomes an interchange for three lines - Parramatta, Woolwich and Darling Harbour.

The consequences of this, in combination with the threefold increase planned in Darling Harbour services, are enormous. As shown in the table below, Balmain East departures in the AM peak periods will increase sevenfold - from four per hour to 28 per hour. That's one ferry departure every two minutes!

Darling Harbour Line departures in 2016 based on the assumption that the Darling Line will continue to be an all stops service.  
Increased frequencies are normally welcomed by customers, but there are operational considerations peculiar to ferries which mean that 28 berthings an hour will be plain annoying.  It usually takes a minimum of two minutes for each vessel to berth, including tying and untying lines, planking the gangway and time for passenger loading.

Even with the dual berthing planned in the upgraded BaImain East Wharf, berthing conflicts in the timetable are inevitable, forcing vessels to be held off the wharf waiting for the previous ferry to depart.

There is also the impact of additional wash on the sea wall at Balmain East from the increase in vessel movements.

It is time for some re-thinking to be done on the Sydney Ferry Future plan. An increase in service frequency is a good thing, but there is a point where the network reaches overload.  Departures every two minutes is neither justified by demand nor operationally sustainable.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The New Barangaroo Ferry Terminal - First Impressions

Source: Barangaroo Delivery Authority 
Few infrastructure projects will be more critical to the Sydney Ferry network in the next 30 years than the new terminal at Barangaroo. The importance of getting it right cannot be overstated.

The terminal will replace the current King Street wharf located 200 metres south. The NSW Government's commitment to build the terminal allows some rethinking about the best way to organise the Sydney Ferry network, especially for servicing locations west of Sydney. Barangaroo, in combination with the Wynyard Walk development, provides an ideal entry point for commuters from this side of the city.

Its desirability will be further enhanced if the planned Sydney Rapid Transit line includes a stop at Barangaroo. This could provide a convenient connection between the ferry and SRT networks.  

Design details for the new terminal were released last week, accompanied by a 323 page Environmental Impact Statement and an invitation for feedback from the public. http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au/index.pl?action=view_job&job_id=6727

Initially two double faced pontoons will be constructed (four wharf faces) with the option of building a third at a later date.

A ferry terminal should allow vessels to load and unload passengers quickly and safely, enabling passengers to move effortlessly from one line to another or transfer to another mode of transport. To accomplish these objectives, there are many details to be sorted out before the design is finalised:
  • which lines will connect at the terminal?
  • how frequently will vessels stop (what will the timetable be, now and in the long term)
  • what will be the peak number of disembarkations for each arrival? What will be the peak numbers embarking?
  • how much time will transferring passengers have to move between vessels and how will this happen? 
These are just some of the details to be resolved.

If you are looking for answers to these questions, the EIS is not very illuminating. Where demand forecasts are provided, the reader is left wondering if they are credible.

Role of Barangaroo in the Ferry Network

The EIS remains true to the Sydney Ferry Futures strategy of May 2013. This means initial plans are only for two lines (Parramatta River and Darling Harbour) to stop at Barangaroo. But Sydney's development plans are moving quickly, so why not consider a line which connects Barangaroo with the Bays Precinct renewal? And why not terminate the Cockatoo Island line at Barangaroo instead of Circular Quay? This would make Barangaroo a real hub to take pressure off the congested Circular Quay.

With at least four wharf faces available at the new terminal, such an expansion could easily be accommodated. 

Demand Assumptions

Sydney has a history of transport projects with ambitious demand forecasts. This one is no exception.  Some of the forecasts include:
  • Week-day AM peak arrivals at Barangaroo to increase from the current 650 (King Street) to 3,000 in 2016. The 650 includes 150 on Darling Harbour services and 500 from the Parramatta River. Even if all the 550 River passengers who currently go to Circular Quay in the peaks suddenly elect to go to Barangaroo instead (note there is no plan to cease Circular Quay arrivals from the River), where will the other 2,000 come from? The ferry mode share of growth locations like Wentworth Point and Meadowbank has always been low and they will not contribute more than a trickle of extra passengers, even if a new wharf is built at Rhodes.
  • Ferry journeys are "estimated to grow at up to 8% per year through to 2026". Compounded over 12 years, that means ferry patronage is forecast to increase to 42 million in 2025-26, a rise of 160%, yet overall growth in all journeys to the CBD is only forecast to rise 23% in 20 years!
There are also some surprising projections for capacity growth. Week-end services are projected to increase from three to eight per hour on the Darling Harbour line and from two to six on the Parramatta River. The flow on congestion elsewhere in the network caused by such a change is hard to imagine.  Balmain East, which the Ferry Futures report nominates as an interchange for the River, Darling Harbour and Cockatoo Island lines, will resemble something like Central Station, with a conga line of boats waiting to berth.

Passenger Ingress and Egress

A blind spot in recent Sydney wharf infrastructure projects is crowd management and passenger ingress and egress. On a busy Sunday, let alone a big event, a First Fleet ferry can unload close to 400 passengers at Darling Harbour, while another 400 wait to board. 

The pontoons proposed for Barangaroo are wider than those at Circular Quay - 23 metres compared to about 18 metres at the Quay. This is welcome, but the design problems of Number 2, 4 and 5 wharves at Circular Quay are repeated in the Barangaroo plans. Despite the pontoons being wider, the waiting areas are not large enough.

The combined waiting area for the two wharf faces is about 200 square metres. This includes seating, which effectively reduces the available space. On busy days, it is quite conceivable that over 600 passengers will be waiting to board a First Fleet ferry on the north face of the pontoon and a RiverCat on the south face. It is simply unsafe, expecially with multiple strollers and some passengers in wheelchairs, to cram three people per square metre into the waiting area. The US Transportation Research Board manual on Transit Capacity and Quality of Service advises that where densities are greater than 1.5 persons per square metre in a queuing area, "long term waiting is discomforting"(1).

Many Sydney residents have experienced discomfort and fear of injury while waiting on an overcrowded pontoon at Circular Quay. This should not be allowed to happen at Barangaroo. 

Building the new terminal is also an opportunity to modernise gangway technology to speed up passenger loading and unloading. Whether this will be done at Barangaroo is not clear.  The concept design drawings show mobile ramps which look worryingly similar to the current set up. It should not be impossible to design a better vessel/ pontoon interface which allows 400 passengers to quickly disembark and 400 others to quickly board.


The Barangaroo terminal can set the agenda for the future of Sydney's urban transit ferry network. Currently released documents disappoint on a number of fronts:
  • lack of clarity about its relationship to the overall ferry network, with no acknowledgement of a possible role in serving the Bays Precinct or the existing Cockatoo Island line.
  • overly optimistic demand forecasts for the Parramatta River
  • insufficient attention to crowd management, which raises concerns about passenger safety
  • no strategy for improving the efficiency of passenger loading/ unloading.
But all is not lost, as the community consultation period has just started. Let's hope that constructive feedback will be acted on.  

(1) Transportation Research Board: Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual - 2nd Edition. Part 7 Stop, Station and Terminal Capacity  http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/153590.aspx 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

More about the new ferry fleet design for Sydney

There's a lot to like about the new ferry design. Perhaps it's the seductive Transport for NSW video. The author has now watched it far too many times, but then this is necessary for professional reasons to take in all the detail.

Sure, a double ended catamaran might be more practical. This would remove the need for ferries to make those dangerous reversing manoeuvres at Circular Quay or Barangaroo and reduce transit time.

And a big capacity (400 passenger) vessel is expensive to run and probably locks the ferries into a 30 minute interval network in the Inner Harbour. Smaller vessels operating at lower cost and higher frequency could create a better quality public transport system with greater ridership.

The heart, however, says the new boat is beautiful.

The original Alan Payne designed First Fleet Ferries are cute and stubby, but the lines of the new design are somehow more graceful and better proportioned. This may simply be because the original design in 1982 was cruelly shortened by the Urban Transit Authority in a failed attempt to save on crewing levels. Perhaps the upper deck of the original design had a similar spacious open area for passengers to enjoy views of Sydney Harbour.

Not sure, but whatever happened in history, the new design by the Sydney naval architect team One2Three seems to have corrected the wrongs committed more than 30 years ago.

The new design has much to admire. The seating arrangements look relaxed and spacious. As one would expect, the old First Fleeter seating, reminiscent of a Commonwealth Employment Service waiting room circa 1983, is replaced by something more comfortable, including some (but not too many) seats with tables.  Crews like the practicality of vinyl, but passengers will appreciate the comfort of new seats.

Boarding will be faster as the entry inside on the main deck is much wider and more open than the old ferry. It is hard to see a log jam of strollers posing a problem here.

Bike racks on the main deck will be a boon for cyclists. 

With a maximum operating speed of 24 knots, it has the flexibility to handle the open water runs to Rose Bay and Watsons Bay and could pick up a bit of time on the Cockatoo Island run once it heads west of Ballast Point. No doubt it has a low wash design, so recreational vessels moored in the inner harbour will not be subject to the tsunami's sometimes inflicted by the old First Fleeters.

Best of all, the open seating on the upper deck looks fantastic. There will be a stampede for the seats in front of the wheelhouse.

One word of caution: gangways. Followers of this blog will know it is an obsession of the author. Please let there be more advanced gangway technology on the new vessels to speed up embarkation and disembarkation. The animation in the video shows gangways ominously similar to the current design.

Apart from this reservation, congratulations to the One2Three team and to Minister Gladys Berejiklian for extending the life of one of Sydney's great icons.     

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Achieving more with less in an urban ferry network

It can be hard to get your head around why a properly structured urban transit ferry network is more efficient. It's a bit like a well organised wardrobe. Neatly arranged socks and pressed shirts save space and it's easy to find whatever you want.

An integrated regular interval timetable (IRIT) is the same. With the same number of boats, a lot more can be achieved for passengers. Ridership goes up and net costs come down. It also allows space to be used more efficiently in a sometimes crowded maritime environment.  
The essential elements of such a network are:
  • all lines operate a strict clockface timetable. For example, departures from the local wharf, in the direction of the city, might always be 13 and 43 minutes past the hour. There may be additional departures in the peaks, but the underlying off peak pattern is retained through the peak period also.
  • stopping patterns on inbound and outbound trips are symmetrical. This means inbound and outbound trips on the same line have the same duration. 
  • connections between lines are integrated at network nodes. Optimally, vessels arrive at nodes three or four minutes before the hour and half hour and then depart three or four minutes after the hour and half hour. This means passengers can transfer between lines without inconvenience.
The benefit for passengers is obvious. Networks designed this way dramatically increase the number of convenient origin-destination (OD) pair connections. 

That some passengers need to make transfers between lines to complete a journey may be seen as a disadvantage, but as transfers are timed, and the connection holds good for all departures, it is not a major inconvenience.  

There are economic benefits in moving to an integrated regular interval timetable. This is because the significant jump in OD pair connections causes ridership to grow at a much faster rate than the operational costs.

The diagram below shows what an integrated regular interval timetable ferry network could look like in Sydney. Circular Quay is the hub for lines east of the city; Barangaroo is the hub for western lines. They are connected by the Darling Harbour line.

Features of the network are:
  • new stops at Rhodes and Elizabeth Bay
  • a new line for the Bays Precinct, with stops at Jacksons Landing, Rozelle and Glebe Point
  • span of service for Watsons Bay extended to include AM and PM peaks (30 minute headways)
  • timed transfers at Barangaroo and Circular Quay on the hour and half hour.
  • Balmain East is a partial node, which means passengers on the Cockatoo Island Line can transfer here for departures to and from Circular Quay, or continue on to Barangaroo.
  • timed transfers at Cockatoo Island, so passengers on the Cockatoo Island Line can connect conveniently with Parramatta River services.    
The network takes advantage of improved access to the Sydney CBD from its western edge as a result of the Wynyard Walk and Barangaroo developments. It also neatly links the proposed Bays Precinct renewal to the entire ferry network.

Overall, convenient origin-destination pair connections increase more than fourfold, from 96 to 404.

One might expect that such an improvement in customer outcomes would be more costly, with additional vessels and increased taxpayer subsidy. No, it reduces net costs to taxpayers.

The following table compares the existing Sydney Ferry network with the integrated regular interval timetable network proposed in this post:

Current ferry operator payments and revenue sourced from Auditor General's Report Vol 7, November 2014  

It is hard to predict the ridership impact of a fourfold increase in convenient OD pair connections - it is conservatively estimated here to be 40%. While there is an 12% increase in service hours, the extra costs in operator payments are more than offset by the extra revenue from ridership growth. 

The peak fleet requirements are unchanged because of the efficiencies inherent in an IRIT network. Operating costs per service hour are also reduced as labour costs will be less.    

The economic benefits don't end with reduced subsidies to the ferry operator. An IRIT network also means it is easier to share waterways with other users, such as cruise ships.

Sydneysiders are familiar with the impact of a large cruise ship berthing in Sydney Cove. It is disruptive for all vessel movements in the harbour.

If all lines in the ferry network are scheduled to arrive and depart Circular Quay around the hour and half hour, there are two 10 minute slots free every hour when no ferries are entering or departing Sydney Cove. This means a crowded maritime space can be safely shared for the economic benefit of Sydney.

For those who like details, the following table provides more information on what each line could look like in a Sydney ferry network based on IRIT principles.