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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 

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