Fix N.S.W. Transport!

Teething trouble

Maintenance on two of the large Manly ferries (Queenscliff and Narrabeen) has been stopped and the boats are set to retire at the end of July 2021. However, the three new outer-harbour Emerald boats to replace them are still at a Port Macquarie shipyard undergoing essential re-fitting. There simply won't be time to finish the works, take the boats to Sydney, test them and train crews etc before they are needed.

Smaller boats for Manly services from 2021

The specified capacity (400 passengers except in rough crossings) of the six Emerald class ferries was chosen to reduce crewing costs. Larger boats are required to carry extra deckhands. However, despite being top-heavy and under 40% of the Freshwaters' capacity, Emerald-style ferries are to replace the Freshwater class ferries on the Manly run pursuant to an announcement made on 9 October 2020.

While this might work for much of the year, there will occasionally be heavy weather when rough conditions crossing Sydney Heads will halve the Emeralds' permissible capacity to about 200, which is less than 20% of that of the Freshwater class boats. Increased reliance will have to be placed on bus alternatives.

Unfortunately, the Emeralds' wharf requirements are quite different from those of the much larger Freshwater ferries, so Circular Quay jetty 3 will have to be altered in a way that permanently precludes use of the large boats. What will happen to the summer crowds that have been carried in past years?

Manly Fast Ferries cutbacks from 5 August 2019

The $50/day cap on Opal fares, introduced on 1 July 2019, does not apply to Manly Fast Ferries fares. For 5d/w commuters, Sydney Harbour Ferries fares have become noticeably cheaper than MFF fares; patronage could suffer to a point where MFF operations become unprofitable. Meanwhile, MFF faces industrial pressure on labour costs and of course might at any time need to spend massive amounts on fleet maintenance. Will the MFF service survive?

New $1.3B contract 27 February 2019

Just one clear day before entering caretaker mode for the imminent NSW state election (23rd March 2019), the NSW government announced a new 9-year contract with the Transdev subsidiary that operates Sydney's ferries. Many observers would think this timing inappropriate.

While the new services may be desirable, the ownership structure employed gives too much control to Transdev interests. Privatisation may reduce the need for government capital involvement but the extra service payments required slew the balance away from the public interest.

No River Kittens

The New South Wales government announced on 26 September 2017 that it proposed to buy 4 small ferries for the Parramatta River.

The existing RiverCats have a capacity of 230 passengers, and the new vessels were to have just 150. The new vessels would have required a crew of 2 while the RiverCats need a crew of 3, raising running costs.

The Parramatta River is now the second busiest ferry service in Sydney after Manly and has experienced an 18% increase in patronage in the last twelve months. The suburbs along the river are being redeveloped for high-rise units, so further increases in patronage can be expected.

The existing ferries are overcrowded, so therefore introducing smaller craft can do little in terms of additional capacity. Smaller vessels are operationally problematic because they add to the congestion in Sydney Cove, and there was a recent Office of Transport Safety Investigations report about safety concerns regarding ferry movements in Sydney Cove.

The NSW government drew up specifications for these small ferries but was unable to find a suitable maker so the project was quietly dropped in mid-2018. One wonders whether privatisation is the intent.

Mismanaged ferries order

Late in 2014, the then transport minister Berejiklian called tenders for six new 400-passenger vessels for service on all inner harbour routes (Watsons Bay to Cockatoo Island). Learn more... These were to be the first major upgrade to Sydney's ferry fleet since Rivercats were introduced in 2001.

The ferries were intended to enter service in 2016 and indeed the first ferry (Catherine Hamlin) arrived in Sydney in November that year. Learn more...

However, Sydney Ferries tested the boat and identified over 100 faults in manufacture and design. The faults included a lack of maneuvrability indicating that larger rudders are necessary. These faults took time to rectify. Learn more... Worse, the difficulties with this ferry order might cause NSW Treasury to clamp down on any further ferry proposals, meaning less ferry investment.

We understand that this unfortunate situation might have been avoided had Transport for NSW consulted properly with suitable experts. T4NSW instead chose to cut corners.

The second boat (Fred Hollows) was launched in Hobart for testing late in April 2017. It had been fitted with appropriate cleats and larger rudders, so some attention must have been paid to the lessons from the first boat. We understand it carried replacement rudders for the Hamlin to Sydney; they have presumably been fitted. Hollows entered service on 26 June 2016 and is proving reliable.

The third boat (Victor Chang) reached Sydney in June 2017.

The fourth boat (Pemulwuy) reached Sydney in August 2017.

The fifth boat (Bungaree) reached Sydney in September 2017.

The sixth and last boat (initially marked Emerald 6 then repainted to Ferry McFerryface and later May Gibbs) reached Sydney in October 2017.

All of them needed to be ready for service on 26 November 2017, when the new timetables brought many extra trips.

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Fix N.S.W. Transport!