Not since the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 has Sydney seen more major projects planned to support its ferry network. The recent announcement of a major upgrade to Circular Quay is one of many major ferry infrastructure investments, including a new hub to be built at Barangaroo South and the acquisition of six new inner harbour ferries.
The thought of shiny new terminals with glamourous retail areas affording sparkling views of Sydney Harbour can bring a rush of excitement. But let’s not forget the main purpose of a ferry terminal is to provide for the safe and efficient berthing of vessels and the safe and efficient exchange of passengers. And before we can say with confidence that the new terminals will perform these functions adequately, a more fundamental question needs to be answered: what should the ferry network of the future look like? Only then can the operational specifications of the new terminals and vessels be settled.
Why does the network matter?
One obvious example is the level of connectivity that passengers should expect. If Sydney was to adopt world’s best practice in network design, all lines hubbing at Circular Quay would operate to a pulse timetable, as practised by the Swiss and in other parts of continental Europe. All ferry services would arrive at Circular Quay shortly before the hour and half hour and depart shortly after the hour and half hour. This would enable lines intersecting at Circular Quay (or at Barangaroo for that matter) to connect conveniently with just a short transfer wait time.
It would also make Sydney Cove safer to navigate, as arriving vessels would no longer interfere with those that are departing.
Opting for quality in network design has consequences. A well connected network must be punctual or planned connections will fail. This requires more advanced gangway technology at wharves and on vessels, so services are not delayed by slow passenger loading. And if timed connections become the norm, pontoon ramps and the passenger concourse at Circular Quay and Barangaroo must allow free movement of passengers transferring between vessels.
One of the biggest questions is how to make better use of Barangaroo in the network. The current King Street Darling Harbour terminal is a poor relation to Circular Quay, but this is now changing with developments on the western side of the CBD. By the time King Street wharf is replaced by a four berth terminal at Barangaroo in late 2016, ferry passengers coming from the west of the city will find this to be easily the most convenient point of entry to Sydney’s CBD. This is thanks in part to the Wynyard Walk project, which will provide easy pedestrian access to Wynyard Station and George Street.The best option would be for all ferry lines west of the harbour bridge to hub at Barangaroo, including a new line to the White Bay Power Station in anticipation of the Bays Precinct development. There is no reason why the Darling Harbour, White Bay and Parramatta lines should not all pulse at Barangaroo, adding significantly to the utility and liveliness of this terminal.
The building of a new transport interchange does not of itself improve the connectivity of a network. Only timetables make connections, but they need well designed infrastructure to support them. It is time for Sydney to stop putting the cart before the horse. Let’s design our networks first before building the supporting infrastructure.