Sydney’s Ferries

Sydney has most of the usual modes of transport. It also has ferries.

I'm on a boat
I’m on a boat

Ferries of course are not unique to Sydney, but they seem to be more significant here than in any US or western city I have seen (Sydney ferries served about 15 million passenger journeys per year, fewer than the State of Washington as a whole, but more than Seattle, the leader in the US, compared with some 100 million passengers in the entire US). Ferries have steadily declined in importance in the US, where they would be replaced by bridges wherever feasible to ensure continuous (or nearly continuous in the case of draw bridges) rather than scheduled service. In western civilization, ferries harken back to the ancient Greeks, who preferred then much faster water transport over land transport (also Greece has lots of islands). Charon even charged the dead for transport over the River Styx, so this was a precursor to toll bridges and toll roads.

Around Sydney Harbour with Public Transport
Around Sydney Harbour with Public Transport

I had a good lunch recently with Robin Sandell, who blogs about Sydney’s Ferries and has a twitter feed devoted to the subject. His idea of running the service as a hub and spoke system with timed transfers, like the Swiss Railway Taktfahrplanto encourage use is really interesting. How much additional demand would such a system induce? [Hint: Research Project]. He also notes that in Sydney Ferry subsidies are less than rail subsidies, and comparable with bus. The fares are not inexpensive, except on Sunday, when they are. While like most of Sydney public transport, my experience is that it seems to adhere well to schedule,  I have heard complaints about random scheduling and schedule adherence issues on ferries

The Ferry Service has at least one private competitor, the Manly Fast Ferry, which you guessed it, is a faster ferry to Manly, northeast of the CBD (for more money). This seems a perfect case to do a Value of Time revealed preference study.  [Hint: Research Project]

From the tourist, or new arrival’s perspective, they are fantastic, a good excuse to enjoy transport. Even from the regular traveler’s perspective, while waiting for a ferry at the wharf might not be your favorite thing to do, remember, you are at a wharf, overlooking the water, waiting for a ferry. This beats a bus stop or a train station or sitting in traffic.  I would bet customer happiness on ferries is on average significantly higher than other modes. [Hint: Research Project]