Ferry Logo

Ferry Logo

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A better approach to public transport commitments

In State election campaigns, we have come to expect political parties to make commitments to individual transport projects - a new rail line, bus route or ferry wharf.

But the quantity of projects, or their dollar value, are not synonymous with community benefit. 

A better approach would be to articulate principles and present a well thought out long term strategy.

New infrastructure is needed, but what are the principles that guide the selection and specification of individual projects? Without those principles, NSW will not get value for money, and is unlikely to achieve a discernible mode shift from car to public transport.

Here is a list of four things that need to be included in a public transport strategy for Sydney:
  1. A long term commitment to building a multi-destinational network. Only a small percentage of travel in Sydney is the trip from home to work - and a small fraction of these are trips to Sydney CBD. A substantial increase in public transport travel (and a drop in car trips) will only happen when PT can be used to travel to wherever you need to go, at a time that suits you. This is not as unrealistic or costly as might be assumed, but it does require intelligent network planning and integration. And it does mean Sydney PT users must get used to more journeys which include a transfer.
  2. Speed, frequency and simplicity are key elements of a successful network plan, plus measures to increase reliability. Practical strategies include fewer, straighter routes, greater distance between stops and more bus priority lanes.     
  3. Priorities for infrastructure projects will be determined by the network plan. Developments which have the biggest impact on achieving the long term network plan should proceed first.
  4. A modified fare structure to remove disincentives to public transport travel. This means removing penalties for transferring between modes, adopting the same fares for all modes and offering heavily discounted monthly, quarterly and annual travel passes. We don't want people to ration their use of public transport, as happens in the current pay as you go system. We want them to treat it as though it is free!   

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Thoughts on expanded NYC ferry services

The history of ferries in New York City and Sydney have plenty in common.

Both cities relied heavily on ferries for urban transit in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, before bridge building, metropolitan rail systems and private motor vehicles shrunk the market.

A double ended screw propelled ferry, the Wallaby, first operated in Sydney in 1879, designed by innovative colonial naval architect Norman Selfe. Double ended screw ferries started in New York nine years later with the launch of the Bergen in 1888 by the Hoboken Ferry Company. 

Both cities embraced this style of vessel because of their suitability for short haul transport. As double enders, they saved lost time on reversing manoeuvres and screw propulsion was more efficient than the traditional paddlewheel.

Sydney naval architect Walter Reeks, who perfected the double ended screw ferry in the Lady Class boats from 1891, commented on the "wonderful similarity" between the solutions independently developed by the New York and Sydney ferry operators.

Launch of Walter Reeks designed doubled ended screw ferry the Lady Mary at Lavender Bay in 1891. Source: Australian National Maritime Museum (William Hall photo collection)   
While New York's ferry operations declined more rapidly than Sydney's, a rejuvenation is happening in both cities in the twenty-first century.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in February an expansion of the NYC ferry network from 2017 to reach all five boroughs. This will complement the existing East River Ferry which started in 2011.      

Source: www.gothamist.com

It has to be said that ferry ridership around New York is not huge. The free Staten Island ferry carries 22 million passengers each year, but the NY Waterway ferry ridership was a more modest 8.5 million in 2014. That compares with 1.7 billion passenger journeys on the New York subway.

Where geography dictates that water transport offers a more convenient alternative to other modes, it sometimes surprises that ferry ridership is not higher. This can lead to some scepticism about service expansion, especially where taxpayer subsidies are involved.

Without pretending to be an expert on New York City transit, here are three suggestions (unsolicited) for making urban transit ferry expansion more successful:

  1. Think network and multiple destinations - don't focus on single origin-destination paths. Discussions about transit often assume that travel to work downtown is its only purpose. Wrong! Most journeys are for reasons other than work and most work destinations are not downtown. Think instead about how ferries integrate with the overall transit system, catering for the widest possible range of travel purposes and destinations.
  2. Make transfers easy. As a rule, passengers don't enjoy transfers, but if you work at making them as convenient as possible, they can multiply the number of possible origin-destination pair connections. Convenience includes timeliness of the connections (ferry to ferry and with other modes), no fare penalty for transfers and ease of movement between modes.  
  3. Legibility. If the ferry timetable is clockface, the connections always work, the span of service is sufficient and the ticketing is straightforward, you have the basics of a legible, easy to use service. But if passengers have to consult a timetable, check that the connection will work and pay separately for different parts of the trip, they will will probably drive their car instead.               


Thursday, 5 March 2015

About Speed

Almost everyone likes to travel quickly to where they need to go. Speed is a fundamental need of transit users, but it is a mistake to think speed in urban transit ferry systems is the same as vessel speed.

There are many reasons why fast ferries, with operating speeds of more than 20 knots, are not suitable for urban transit networks in narrow waters, covering relatively short distances. There is a substantial increase in wash at higher speeds and safety risks are also greater.

From a commercial perspective, fuel efficiency declines rapidly at higher speeds and minimum crewing levels, determined by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), are also affected. Speed is one of the risks considered by AMSA in setting minimum crew levels, so labour costs can be much higher on fast ferries.

For all of these reasons, a focus on achieving speed purely by acquiring faster boats is not necessarily a good idea.

A far smarter strategy is to look at the other things that affect how quickly a passenger moves from origin to destination. Here are five ways to speeding up the end to end journey:

1. Gangways: single gangways only allow about 50 passengers to load per minute. Wider gangways and/or deployment of two gangways speeds up passenger loading and reduces variation in transit time.

2. Passenger ingress and egress: better designed terminals which separate disembarking passengers from boarding passengers and better design of vessels to allow free movement of boarding passengers to stops bottlenecks. 

3. Vessel manoeuvrability: incorporate steerable propulsion and manoeuvring systems in new vessels to speed up vessel berthing. 

4. Align pontoons with vessel line of approach: it might seem obvious, but it is a common error to construct new terminals where vessels must make slow complicated manoeuvres to berth or, even worse, reverse on departure. Where ever possible, pontoons used for intermediate wharves should minimise a vessel's deviation from its path.

5. Integrated regular interval timetables: timetables which ensure timed connections at interchange nodes minimise the wait for passengers who need to include a transfer in their journey. The periodicity of a regular interval timetable can also eliminate berthing conflicts in the timetable.