The American transport planner Jarrett Walker often talks about making public transport more useful. By this he means the network should be designed so people can conveniently travel to where they need to go, at a time that suits them. And good network design can also lead to efficient use of resources – high rates of fleet and crew utilisation and more passengers per service hour.
Popular demand for more public transport does not pay much attention to usefulness or efficiency. A new train station? Yes please. A new ferry service? I’ll have two of those.
Building infrastructure is tangible and highly visible. More commuter services for existing customers are also obvious. But what about those who do not use public transport because it doesn’t take them where they need to go? They’re the silent, invisible majority.
A more nuanced view of public transport takes a network wide view. What can be done to make better connections between points of origin and destination? At hubs in the network, is it convenient to transfer from one line to another? Is it easy to change from one mode to another? Is there inefficient duplication in the network, such as two modes providing services on the same corridor?
New commuter ferry services planned from Rose Bay and Mosman to Barangaroo fall into the populist category. If you haven’t heard about them, they get a brief mention in Transport for NSW’s web page on the new Barangaroo ferry terminal. Many Mosman and Rose Bay residents will be excited at the prospect of having their existing ferry services to Circular Quay supplemented with extra ferries travelling directly to Barangaroo.
But how many will catch the new services? The current run from Rose Bay to Circular Quay takes about 11 minutes in a SuperCat and covers a distance of 5.7 km. The new service to Barangaroo is longer – 7.8 km – because vessels will need to traverse around Dawes Point before heading south to Barangaroo. I’m guessing the trip will take at least five more minutes than the Circular Quay run. If you work in one of the towers at Barangaroo South you may think that is just fine, but for most people working west of George Street, it will be quicker to change at Circular Quay for the train to Wynyard or Town Hall, or transfer to the Light Rail when it starts in 2019.
And what about the impact on efficiency? With fast passenger loading and unloading, one SuperCat with a maximum speed of 26 knots can operate the Rose Bay – Circular Quay run at 30 minute headways on a 30 minute cycle. The new run to Barangaroo will probably be on a 45 minute cycle and perhaps an ugly 45 minute headway. That means the cost per service will be 50% more than the Circular Quay run.
It’s a similar story for the new Mosman to Barangaroo services.
If the objective is to make our ferry services more efficient and useful, there are other things that need to be done. Here are four suggestions:
- Redesign the existing Sydney Ferry network based on integrated regular-interval timetable principles. This would create timed transfers for lines terminating at Circular Quay and Barangaroo.
- Extend the current Darling Harbour line into a pendulum line, with Taronga Zoo as one terminus and the White Bay Power Station redevelopment as the other.
- Make faster passenger loading a strategic priority in the design of all future wharves and vessels.
- All off peak River and Woolwich ferries to terminate at Barangaroo. Woolwich ferries to terminate at Barangaroo all day, but passengers can transfer at Balmain East to a Circular Quay ferry with a four minute transfer wait in both directions.
On my calculations, the network changes can be achieved with no extra peak vessel requirements and just 10.7% more service hours than the current timetable. Convenient origin-destination pair connections would increase from 96 to 419. Sydney would have a very usable ferry network, with less subsidisation from taxpayers.