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Wednesday 28 October 2015

The myth that ferries don't compete on cost with other public transport modes

There is a common assumption that urban transit ferries cost more to operate per passenger journey - and attract greater taxpayer subsidies - than other modes of public transport. 

Often this is true, but it is not always the case. 

A previous post on this blog debunks the myth that Sydney Ferries attract much higher subsidies than buses or trains. 

But the misunderstanding persists and often leads to  
rhetorical questions like "why should battlers in the western suburbs subsidise rich ferry riders from the north shore or eastern suburbs?" I have even heard it raised at IPART hearings. 

So it's time to restate the facts.

The NSW Auditor-General's Financial Audit Report - Volume Seven 2014 - provides a helpful table showing the operating costs and revenue per passenger of three modes of public transport in NSW (trains, buses and ferries) in the 12 months ending June 2014. A graphical version is shown below:
Source: NSW Auditor-General's Financial Audit Report Volume 7 2014, p. 17
Net cost per passenger journey, after deducting farebox revenue, is $10.61 for rail, $6.24 for ferries and $5.88 for buses. This means the subsidy per passenger for rail is more than $4 higher than ferries. The difference between buses and ferries is almost negligible. 

Now there will be arguments about what the Audit Office includes as a cost. And the average rail journey is longer than either ferry or bus journeys (this raises another question - why aren't train fares commensurately higher for longer trips?). 

All of this does muddy the water, but the difference in operating costs are really not that great.  

When other issues come into play, such as the impact on CBD congestion caused by conga lines of buses entering and leaving the city, the argument for ferries becomes more compelling. Ferries certainly have a competitive advantage over buses in near city suburbs with good waterway connections. 


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