Sydney’s most reliable and loved form of Public Transport is at risk of being the victim of uninformed politicians and bureaucrats.
By Stephen Coulter, Mobility Expert and Manly Resident
Why is New South Wale’s Minister for Transport so determined to rid Sydney of the iconic Manly Ferry?
The recent announcement by Andrew Constance to replace the iconic Manly Freshwater Class Ferry with the much smaller Emerald Class ferries beggars belief and warrants detailed investigation.
The Sydney Morning Herald on October 9 reported “Mr Constance said the Freshwater-class ferries were costly to maintain and “their time has come”.
“[The Freshwater-class is] at the end of its life after 40 years and we are running a modern-class ferry fleet,”. Mr Constance proposes fast Emerald Class ferries making the journey in 22 minutes compared to 30 minutes on the “slow ferry”. This is despite Manly already having a fast ferry, owned and operated by the NRMA — a member organisation, not a government department or shareholder driven corporation.
No facts were provided to support Minister Constance’s claims.
Transport Minister calls time on Sydney's 'iconic' Manly ferries
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The short story is:
- the Freshwater Class ferries are fit for purpose and have decades of economic life still in them.
- there are no operational savings to NSW as the operations have been outsourced to French company TransDev since 2012.
- maintenance savings are only around $4m per year out of TfNSW’s annual $12b+transport budget — far larger savings are achievable from rail, roads, or buses. Ferries represent less than 1% of NSW’s annual transport budget.
- the tourism value of the large Freshwater class ferry is worth many millions of dollars a year to NSW, Sydney, and Manly than the minimal maintenance savings.
- millions of people prefer the “slow ferry” due to its slower speed with more outdoor seats allowing locals and tourists to enjoy and appreciate the journey — it has over 99% reliability and customer satisfaction based on TfNSW reports!
- in Sydney and around the world public transport needs larger capacity vehicles for major routes — especially transport which doesn't create road traffic nor requires significant infrastructure.
- NSW and Australia are ideally placed to design and build a new iconic high-capacity, energy-efficient ferry for major cities around the world, rather than taking fast boats from China.
- the superior capacity of the larger Freshwater ferries cannot be matched by Emerald Class at peak times, especially with dramatically reduced COVID-Safe capacities.
- using Smart Cities technology, the TfNSW Open Data Hub and Developer Portal can be used to intelligently share passengers to the existing Fast Ferry service when lower capacity trips are expected.
- the Freshwater-class Manly Ferry is an ocean-going boat much better equipped to handle large swells with better passenger comfort. They can operate in rougher conditions than the much smaller Emerald-class ferry. Every cancelled ferry requires replacement buses adding to already overcrowded road — one ferry can require as many as 35 buses at COVID-safe capacity — or 24 B-Line buses.
The enormous public uproar about the proposed removal of the Freshwater Ferry class by Manly locals, Australians, and international visitors is testimony to this short-sighted, uninformed, and poorly researched decision.
Minister Constance needs to read the thousands of comments on petitions and media articles to better understand the value of the Manly Freshwater Ferry to NSW, Sydney, and Manly.
As does Howard Collins, the UK trains expert who is currently Chief Operating Officer fo TfNSW. While expert on trains, Mr Collins attempts to justify the Minister’s decision highlights his lack of knowledge and understanding of the iconic heritage value of the Manly ferry.
It is not too late for common sense and facts to prevail. There are short and long-term solutions to ensure iconic high capacity ferries always service the Sydney-Manly route.
If you have time, here’s the longer story and facts.
Manly Ferry — A Sydney and Australian Icon
The Manly Ferry commenced around 1850, predating the Sydney Harbour Bridge by more than 80 years and the Sydney Opera House by more than 120 years. The large two-way Manly Ferry is iconic. Anyone googling “worlds best ferry rides” will always find the Manly Ferry rated in the Top 10, if not the Top 5 globally. Apart from commuters in a hurry, locals, visitors and tourists prefer the slower, large Manly Ferry. Used in Manly advertising for over one hundred years, the Manly tagline of “Seven miles from Sydney, one thousand miles from care” is epitomised by the 30 minute Manly Ferry ride.
It’s a Ferry with Benefits
It is a relaxing, invigorating journey with fresh air, beautiful views, and a safe ocean-going experience, sometimes with thrilling swells. And yet it is only 30 minutes — just eight minutes slower than Minister Constance’s new made-in-China ferries. The global pandemic has highlighted to many of us the value and appreciation of a slower, more local life. The Manly Ferry is a classic example, with its size allowing safer, socially-distanced journeys in the fresh air than the alternative smaller ferries and buses. Manly ferry riders enjoy the slower journey, the photo opportunities, and the fresh air Freshwater experience — they don't want it to end eight minutes sooner without the benefits!
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Manly Ferry — Australia and the World’s Most Reliable & Loved Public Transport
The Manly Freshwater Ferry record is impeccable. Its on-time reliability is over 99% and the most reliable of any ferry or any mode of public transport in NSW. It is also the most loved — customer satisfaction ratings are also over 98%. These are hardly the figures of a failing ferry in need of replacement.
Any city in the world would be boasting of such great outcomes — not planning its demise!
Over 50% of Manly Ferry passengers choose the slower Manly Ferry over the Fast Ferry. It is only commuters who choose the Fast Ferry ahead of the 8-minutes slower ferry.
Ferries are reliable and loved — Manly Ferry the best of the best!
The Value of Tourism
Destination NSW did a benchmark Manly Visitor Profile for 2019, so the effect of COVID 19 could be measured.
It identified 2.8 million visitors to Manly in 2019.
- 1.1 million who stayed overnight in NSW — 16% stayed in Manly. So 84% or 924,000 did a day trip to Manly — most by Ferry.
- There were 700,000 local day trips to Manly — again a large majority by Ferry.
- 1.0 million international visitors came to Manly — 4% stayed overnight — 96% or 960,000 visited Manly as a day trip — also mostly by Ferry.
In total, Manly had 2,524,000 tourism day trips to Manly in 2019 — predominantly by Ferry. Main activities by visitors to Manly are eating/drinking at Manly Cafes, Restaurants, recreational shopping, visiting the beach and sightseeing.
If we assume the average tourist spends $50 in Manly and around $20 for a daily return ferry fare, the Manly ferry ridden tourism dollars is around $180 million per year. Ferries market share indicates virtually all day-trippers prefer the slower 30-minute Manly ferry experience.
Just the tourism value is many times the estimated maintenance cost of $4m per year of retaining the Freshwater-class ferries.
The Facts on Manly Ferry Maintenance & Operating Costs
Transport for NSW has outsourced the operation of Sydney Ferries, to French-based global transport operator TransDev since 2012. TransDev is an enormous company with over 85,000 employees. It operates transport systems in 18 countries across five continents. Australia/NZ represents 7% of global financial returns — the Sydney Ferries a small part of this region, the Manly Ferry route, even smaller.
The 2012 contract to TransDev was renewed for nine years in 2019 at a cost to TfNSW of AUD 1.3 billion. The published contract is available here. The contract is heavily redacted, and 200+ pages of schedules and appendices are missing — we wonder what is being hidden?
The contract results in TransDev being responsible for all operating costs(e.g. Staff and fuel) and any operational savings only benefit TransDev.
Amortised over nine years, the annual cost is around AUD 145 million for all of Sydney’s ferries. As an outsourced agreement, TfNSW seeks to lock in costs over the contract term and not be exposed to operating cost risks.
Minister Constance’s Principal Manager Ministerial Correspondence, Terry McSweeney has been fallaciously claiming operating savings to NSW when TransDev is the beneficiary.
Section 6.5 of the contract, “Manly Ferry Service”, is totally redacted!
The contract references a “Fleet Deployment Schedule” which is also totally redacted. We understand this schedule allows the acquisition of 10 new Rivercats for Parramatta services and three new Emerald Class specified for inner harbour routes — Milsons Point, McMahons Point, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay — we understand it does NOT specify these new ferries for the Manly route.
TfNSW continues to be responsible for the scheduled servicing of existing Sydney Ferries but not for new ferries. The four Freshwater-class ferries require servicing once every five years — this is the ferry equivalent of a car being serviced and is required for each ferry to retain its “certification” and be covered by insurance. We understand Lloyds of London currently underwrites this risk.
The estimated cost of the five-yearly service is around AUD 5 million — we understand servicing/maintenance is performed at NSW State shipyards on Garden Island as the Balmain Ferry base cannot handle the large Manly Ferry. With four Freshwater ferries, amortising the servicing costs over nine years equates to AUD 4 million per year or $36 million over the life of the contract — a 2.77% increase on the $1.3 million operating contract.
All four Freshwater ferries are due for service between 2021 and 2024 — if they are not serviced they will not be certified and cannot be operated — some suspect this is TfNSW’s agenda.
The Freshwater itself is due for service by the end of February 2021 — as the service takes 3–5 months, it will be out of operation from March 2021 until it is re-certified. We understand allowing the certification to lapse may also result in Lloyd’s choosing not to reinsure the Manly Freshwater ferries.
The Freshwater class ferries are in good condition and have 20+ years of operating life remaining if they continue to be maintained. The crew of the ferries cares for their boats as if they are part of their family. To ensure they are serviced properly, the crew assess and prepare detailed specifications for all maintenance which must be done. The crew took on this responsibility after past fixed price servicing paid to the operator resulted in corners being cut to maximise profit.
Maintenance Savings are the only Costs Transport for NSW Can Save.
If the Manly Ferry is replaced with Chinese made Emerald-class ferries, the maintenance responsibility and costs become the responsibility of TransDev — saving TfNSW around $4 million per year on average.
A saving of $4m/year from an annual NSW transport budget of more than $12 billion is little more than a rounding error. Far greater savings are available if Mr Constance looks at opportunities with Roads, Trains, and Buses where more than 98% of NSW transport costs occur.
Ferries are the lowest cost to the government and have the highest return of revenue to costs. Rail and buses recover less than 25% of costs from fares resulting in enormous government subsidies to enable an affordable public transport system for passengers. Road users are subsidised even more -around $7 billion per year.
New South Wales Public Transport Services Cost to Government
Mr Constance, as the State’s chief project manager for transport, has an eye for costs but little appreciation of value. The value of the large Manly ferry to NSW tourism and heritage is worth far more than $4 million per year in financial terms- let alone the value you put on passenger enjoyment, heritage, and their value as a Sydney icon.
The proposed Emerald’class ferries do not have the capacity to replace the Freshwater class ferries. Without COVID restrictions, the Freshwater-class ferry has almost three times the capacity of Emerald-class. In COVID times the Freshwater still has a 57% capacity greater than a fully packed Emerald class.
TfNSW/TransDev have only ordered three Emerald-class ferries being built with reinforced bows. With three services per hour, operating at 20-minute intervals, Freshwater class can move 3,300 passengers per hour at full capacity and 1,350 at COVID Safe capacity levels (equivalent to 30 B-Line bus loads or 48 3-door bus loads!).
The Emerald Class with three boats operating will struggle to make 4 trips per hour at most — the journey time is 22 minutes, with 10 minutes an optimistic time to unload, check and reload passengers. If 4 trips are possible (with only 3 ferries it’s impossible), the maximum capacity would be 1,600 per hour at full capacity(48% of Freshwater)or 856 at COVID-Safe capacity(63% of Freshwater).
A small-capacity ferry makes no sense in today’s mass transit world. As TfNSW and Andrew Constance should know, transit trends are to increase capacity on major routes serviced by ferries, rail, metro, light rail, and buses. This allows more people to be moved per hour to transit hubs where smaller, more nimble first/last mile modes of transport are used to get people to their destinations — walking, cycling, scooters.
Ferries are the most cost-efficient mass transit — they do not require roads, rails, tunnels, or bridges. They are high capacity, ideal for major routes — one Manly Ferry can accommodate the equivalent of 48 buses and do the route in less time with virtually 100% reliability. Buses create traffic and get stuck in it — reliability is much harder. In COVID times buses are often full early on a route, providing little if any capacity for later pickups.
NSW does not seem to have grasped the facts of “induced demand”, and the more roads and tunnels are built, the worse traffic is becoming. In March 2020, the start of COVID, Sydney commute times had ballooned by up to 60%. In our new “COVID normal” world, with dramatically reduced public transport capacity, traffic is even worse. Over 2 million car journeys a day occur in Sydney of less than 2 km!
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Induced demand is a well-known fact which NSW is not addressing.
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Even Australia’s leading comedians understand induced demand better and poke fun at governments for their bureaucratic bungling making traffic worse not better.
Greater capacity public transport is needed. Pre-Covid NSW had already exceeded its public transport capacity projected for 2031.
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Large capacity Manly ferries meet this capacity requirement and can move many more people between Manly and City per hour than buses or smaller ferries.
Manly Doesn’t Need a Second Fast Ferry Service.
The Manly Fast Ferry service was taken over and reinvigorated by Bass Flinders Ferry in the early 2000s. The NRMA has since acquired a majority stake. Bass Flinders/NRMA has excelled at improving the levels of customer service and features of the Manly Fast Ferry from free tea/coffee, to wifi, USB charging, on ferry bar and much more. Sydney ferries responded, and both ferry operators now deliver exception service — as proven by the high customer satisfaction ratings.
The NRMA is beneficial to NSW and ferries as it is a member-based organisation focussed on delivering services for members, not shareholders.
NRMA also focuses on delivering services for the broader NSW community. It is not profit-driven like large companies with shareholders. It needs to be financially viable but does not make decisions exclusively based on financial outcomes.
The Manly Fast Ferry paid significantly fo the right to be the Manly fast ferry operator and delivers a very reliable 20-minute service — gaining around 90% of commuter passengers. If TransDev/Sydney Ferries bring in a 22-minute fast ferry, this will significantly undermine the NRMA business which has been benefitting millions of passengers for more than a decade.
Transport for NSW’s own research shows the 30 minute Manly Ferry has 99+% customer satisfaction and 98+% reliability — we don't need it replaced by a duplicate fast ferry.
The NRMA My Fast Ferry is a great service which should be allowed to continue as the fast ferry provider.
Smart Solutions Exist
A range of much better solutions exists which will continue to provide a choice of exception Manly ferry services and deliver better overall outcomes for Manly, Sydney, NSW and Australia.
Use TfNSWs Open Data Hub, which provides an extensive range of transport data available for planning and operating NSW’s public and private transport across all modes. A current example is using the Hub to manage COVID_safe commuting on Sydney trains. Using live data, the Hub identifies if trains are likely to be too crowded for safe travel. Regular commuters receive a notification of the risk and can make alternative travel plans.
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Using Smart Data with Ferries
Using the same smart data hub, TfNSW can predict load factors on ferries. Should the data Hub indicate a less than optimal capacity for the large Manly Ferry, commuters could automatically be routed to the NRMA My Fast Ferry service. This would save TransDev the cost of operating uneconomic services when demand is lower. Opal cards can already be used on the Fast Ferry, and the Hub’s smart data can be used to offer passengers and the NRMA the correct fare/income for each passenger.
License the Slower Manly Ferry operations to NRMA
The four Manly Freshwater Ferries are not owned by TransDev who effectively lease them from NSW. This is an unusual model for TransDv, especially when NSW is still responsible for major maintenance. TransDev seems to want to control every boat in their fleet — hence buying more homogenous Emerald-Class better suits TransDev’s operational efficiency and business model.
If this is the problem, let NRMA provide the total Manly Ferry service — as a transport and tourism operator with a vested interest in NSW, they are likely to do a better job with more innovative services than an 85,000 five continent behemoth.
TransDev continues to run the other harbour and rivercat services with its own homogenous fleet or River cats, Emerald class, First Fleet and Harbour Cat ferries.
Design and Build a New Energy Efficient High Capacity Two-Way Ferry
NSW and Australia have boat builders and shipbuilders capable of designing and building world-class ferries. Australia already exports ferries globally from innovative shipbuilders like Incat in Tasmania and Austral in WA.
INCAT - Building the World's Fastest, Efficient, Environmentally Clean, High-Speed Ships.
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There are other cities globally with requirements for higher capacity reliable ferries — Hong Kong, New York, Vancouver and more. Taking a more efficient design approach, a ferry with a capacity of 600–800 passengers could be the optimal long term solution. While the design and construction process occurs the existing fleet of Freshwater ferries have the economic life to meet the current needs.
New technologies allow more efficient electric ferries which can deliver the services required. Designing an iconic “Manly-like” ferry with the two-way operation and high capacity can readily be done in Australia, creating jobs, environmental benefits and export income for Australia.
The Freshwater Manly Ferry is one of the world’s most loved and reliable ferries and ferry routes. Customer satisfaction and reliability is the envy of every public transport service globally.
It is an efficient service which delivers much better cost recovery than NSW’s trains, buses, light rail, metro or roads.
It is low maintenance — not requiring expensive road and rail infrastructure with constant repairs. The current fleet has many years of reliable safe service is they are maintained.
More than just a mode of efficient transport, the Manly Ferry is an iconic tourism and heritage symbol of Manly, Sydney and Australia dating back 170 years. The tourism value is close to $200 million per year.
Above all, the Manly ferry is loved.
It should not be replaced by homogenous bland ferries. Rather, the opportunity is to design the 21st-century version of an iconic higher capacity, energy-efficient ferry. Design features instantly recognisable with the historic form factor but bringing energy-efficient propulsion and the amenities expected by commuters, locals and tourists.
If you care about common-sense transport decisions which are coherent with sound future transport strategy and protect heritage and tourism, you can help.
Please use any material you find useful in this article and add your own views. Write to:
Parliament of NSW
Premier Gladys Berijiklian, email@example.com
Minister Andrew Constance MP, firstname.lastname@example.org
Member for Manly, James Griffin MP, email@example.com
Stuart Ayres MP, Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Minns, Shadow Minister for Transport, email@example.com
Jenny Aitchison, Shadow Minister for Tourism, firstname.lastname@example.org
Faehrmann, Cate, Greens, Cate.Faehrmann@parliament.nsw.gov.au
Zali Steggall, Federal Member for Warringah, Zali.Steggall.MP@aph.gov.au
Northern Beaches Council
Transport for NSW
Steve Cox, CEO Destination NSW, email@example.com
There are also petitions you can sign to support saving the Manly ferry:
Here’s some further reading for those interested:
The Manly Ferry: A history of the service and its operators, 1854–1974 by University of Sydney, https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/1557
Transdev Contract Announcement — 2019–2028, https://www.transdev.com/en/press-release/transdev-secures-e815-million-sydney-ferries-renewal-contract-until-2028/
The 2019–2028 TfNSW TransDev Contract, https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/system/files/media/documents/2019/TfNSW-Ferry-System-Contract-Redacted_0.pdf