There may be other transport projects in Sydney with a higher profile, but none is more important to the future of ferries than the NSW Government’s plan to rebuild Circular Quay.
Squeezed tightly into the head of a narrow 275 metre wide cove, Circular Quay is the main terminal for eight lines of the Sydney Ferry network. It’s also used by an assortment of non-subsidised ferries, water taxis, cruise boats and massive cruise ships. The importance of getting the new design right hardly needs emphasising.
There are two ways to tackle a project like this. The first is a “one size fits all” engineering solution, where the architect is not clear exactly how the finished product will be used, so designs something to work for a range of possibilities. The outcome is useable, but only after a fashion.
Jetty 3 at Circular Quay was purpose built for the Manly Ferry, but the other jetties exemplify one size fits all thinking. Boats with a range of specifications can use jetties 2, 4, 5 and 6, but safe and efficient passenger exchange is sacrificed for the sake of versatility. The wide variation in freeboard (height of a vessel’s deck above water level), vessel length and gangway gate configuration make passenger loading slow and cause delays on crowded week-ends or in peak school holiday periods.
|The egress of passengers disembarking via the stern gangway of an Emerald Class ferry at Wharf 2 is impeded by disembarking passengers from the midships gangway|
Try taking the ferry to Watsons Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon if you want to see for yourself.
The alternative approach is customisation - setting standards for the vessels that use Circular Quay and building jetties compatible with those standards. Imagine how much more efficient ferry operations would be if the freeboard of inner harbour ferries was aligned to the pontoons where they berthed at the Quay. Using short but wide retractable gangways would allow ferries to unload quickly and free up space on pontoons. Applying standards to vessel length could also make it possible for two ferries to unload simultaneously from the same side of a wharf, saving further precious time.
It’s more efficient to have fast turnarounds at terminals than boats travelling at high speed over open water. Very fast ferries have high fuel consumption and the wash from fast ferries can be damaging to shorelines and marinas. So it’s better to save time in the vessel/wharf interface.
Allowing any boat, of any length, with any freeboard, or any variation of gangway gate configuration to use a redesigned Circular Quay is not a good option, or certainly not at berths allocated to the Sydney Ferries fleet. The design of wharves and vessels should be geared for fast turnarounds, befitting a modern mass transit system. This means wharf infrastructure projects must be integrated with fleet replacement planning.
Eschewing one size fits all thinking requires courage and vision. Courage and vision are good investments if they result in a well designed ferry terminal, more efficient ferry operations and a better passenger experience.