Hearings on the Regional Public Transport Plan started today and while I will probably cover this in more detail tomorrow, it is probably worth addressing the article in the Herald today. Of the more than 700 submissions the one that they decide to pick out is from a ferry company whining about trains, and to a lesser extent buses.

Auckland ferry operator Sealink says trains are gobbling up too much public money, depriving the two-harbour city of superior water transport.

It claims in a submission to Auckland Transport that billions of dollars are going to the least efficient transport service – one “generally located in the least desirable parts” of the city.

“Auckland’s defining feature is its maritime environment and ferries historically played a far more significant role in the city’s public transport than they do currently,” the submission says.

Sealink managing director Todd Bolton told the Herald that 70 per cent of Aucklanders lived within 3km of the coast.

The company wants Auckland Transport to back a wider network of passenger ferries to reach suburbs such as Howick and St Heliers in the east and Browns Bay and Takapuna to the north.

It also proposes circular routes in Waitemata Harbour similar to successful operations in Sydney, and vehicle ferries to Wynyard Wharf or Mechanics Bay from Devonport, Bayswater and Birkenhead.

“With relatively little effort and expenditure, certainly in comparison to the [$2.86 billion underground] City Rail Link, many vehicles can be taken off the severely congested choke point of the harbour bridge.”

The comment about Auckland being a water city gets brought up fairly frequently but the more you look at it, you realise that it doesn’t necessarily make ferries the best solution. For PT to be effective it needs to be both frequent while at least a bit competitive with other modes and looking at a map there aren’t really any serious locations where that may be possible. Many of the ferries that run currently tend to be focused on only running during the peak and outside of that the level of service is so infrequent it is not able to be relied on for PT. Sealink then point out that the cost recovery for ferries in total is much higher than either bus or train but that is due to that peak running and even just upgrading our existing ferry network to have frequent services (i.e. at least one service every 15 minutes) would involve substantial investment from both a capital and operating expenditure standpoint. Expanding out to new wharfs would increase these issues even further and that is before you even consider that probably most of the easy to service routes are already covered.

Ferries also have another huge disadvantage, like all other forms of PT people have to be able to get to them and we will need as many people as possible close to them to get patronage numbers up. By their very nature though half of their catchment is not able to be developed for people to live in as it is water which makes it that much harder to get patronage. One last comment from me on this, Sealink say that 70% of all people in Auckland live within 3km of the coast. That’s a pretty broad brush and do they honestly think that people will travel 3km just to use a ferry service?

But putting all of the above to the side, where could we actually run new ferry services to, here is part of a guest post that was submitted to us by reader Louis on the issue.

Ferries do not play much of an “everyday” role in public transit in most cities. They do have many disadvantages over land based modes of transport, including their relatively slow speed, lack of coverage and poor accessibility, not to mention that some people are put off by fear of sea sickness. Ferries are also more likely to be cancelled due to foul weather and are more suited to more direct routes, without stops, as docking can be slow.

In saying that, ferries can be very useful. They do have an appeal of comfort that buses cannot match and are the most scenic way to travel. They have their own right of way and will not get caught up in traffic. They also can take more direct routes than by land, for example the 12 minute ferry crossing is by far the quickest way to get to Devonport. It’s also much easier to take your bike on the ferry, than on the bus. I think ferries do have some potential in Auckland, a city with a long association with the sea, to develop as a convenient way of transport. Modern ferries are more stable and faster.

It would be very interesting to see data comparing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions between ferries and road transport.

I was thinking of possible places where routes could be expanded, I have marked existing services in red, the new Hobsonville Point / Beach Haven stops in blue, and future stops in Green.

Western Harbour area:

Currently there is one ferry service between Downtown and Westpark Marina. However next week a new ferry service, operated by 360 Discovery will begin between Downtown, Beach Haven, and Hobsonville Point. The downside is the poor frequency – only two return services each weekday (none on weekends), and the high fares. I would like to see a half decent all day frequency, say once an hour. Adding a stop somewhere around Island Bay could be worth considering.

I think a ferry service to Te Atatu could be a winner. It would be faster and more relaxing than going via road in peak hours. Ferries to Point Chevalier have also be suggested in the past, however that would be impractical in my opinion and unlikely to be faster than land transport.

Western Harbour

Mission Bay / Saint Heliers:

There have been suggestions of ferry services to Mission Bay and Saint Heliers. I am not sure this would be a great idea, as it would require new wharves to be built. I worry about the major disruption to recreational swimmers,etc. But it would provide a useful service.

Eastern Bays

Tamaki Estuary:

There has been talk about new ferry services along the Tamaki Estuary. Stops could be at Glendowie, Bucklands Beach, Point England, Farm Cove and Panmure. I cannot see this working very well to be honest. The service would be extremely slow and I suspect that the train would be a faster option for residents of Glen Innes and Panmure and for Bucklands Beach, a short feeder bus ride to Half Moon Bay. Also the estuary is very tidal and would probably require expensive dredging. A better option would be to improve frequencies on the existing Half Moon Bay run.

Tamaki Estuary

Howick / Beachlands:
Including a Howick stop on the current Pine Harbour / Beachlands run would be very useful. But I think the costs and inconvenience of building a wharf at Howick would be prohibitive. Once again, an improved frequency would be good to see.


East Coast Bays:

Ferries along the East Coast Bays have the disadvantage of not being as competitive with roads. A service to Takapuna would be nice, but a new wharf would cause great disruption to boaties, swimmers and so on. Other possibles could include Mairangi Bay, but that can be exposed to large waves when the wind blows from the Northeast. Murrays Bay is also an option, but the existing wharf would probably not be suitable for a ferry service.

Further north there is more potential. A service to Browns Bay could work very well and would be far more appealing than sitting in traffic. It could be included as a stop on the Gulf Harbour route, with a boosted frequency.

East Coast Bays

So as you can see, while there are a number of opportunities for expanding services, I think the most opportunity could be gained by improving existing services, in two ways:

1) Integrated fares: It is extremely disappointing to hear that ferries will not be included in the integrated fares scheme. Personally I think that would be a mistake. Ferries have a problem that a lot of their walk up catchment area is the sea, so have a greater reliance on feeder buses to deliver passengers, something that becomes unappealing when one has to pay to change services. I see no good reason why ferries should be priced at a premium rate, they should be included in the zonal system.

2) Improving frequencies: As I mentioned above, frequencies on ferries are currently very poor. I think we need services every 15 minutes on the Devonport run and half hourly off peak services on most other routes. This would be a great way to get a larger patronage base, as it could be relied on as being reasonably frequent.

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  1. I have recently started taking the ferry from Bayswater everyday to work. I have been really impressed with the staff and the service. It certainly is a great way to start your day.

    I think the ferry at Bayswater in particular is quite under utilised and it would be good to see AT try and ramp that up. It is only 30min frequencies at peak times c.f. Devonport every 15 mins. There is a Ritchie’s bus from Takapuna that links with every ferry and so offers a great integrated service for people living on the peninsula.

    I guess a major downside of ferries is that they only take people to the centre. So it will never have the potential that the train does to allow people to e.g. live in Manukau and work in New Lynn. Once we have 10 min train frequencies from Britomart, maybe it will become feasible to walk across to Britomart and travel on from there.

    One improvement in the future would be better pedestrian access between the ferry and Britomart. Maybe a link up with the QEII Square underpass?

    Pity to see the players in the PT space undermining each other. But I guess when there is such a small pie everyone gets a bit frenetic.

      1. SeaLink aren’t really involved in public transport anyway. Their services are car ferries to Great Barrier and Waiheke, quite a different type of service than a suburban PT service.

    1. In the original britomart plans that got cut back for cost reasons there was to be a walkway (underground?) to the ferry terminal.
      Hopefully it could be included as part of the CRL construction.

  2. I like the comment that trains are generally located in the least desirable parts of the city. Clearly the people in West and South Auckland don’t matter.

  3. Just replace the word trains in their submission with ‘Highways’ and it makes more sense. Especially as ferry users often use another from of Transit or active mode in order to access their ferry, including trains. Subsidised auto dependency is a greater threat to increased ferry use than investment in other Transit modes.

  4. Matt, did you say that ferries are to be part of integrated ticketing but not part of AT’s planned integrated fare scheme? That is because ferries are not subsidised correct? Is there not a way to bring the ferry companies unsubsidised, into the IF scheme?

    1. I think it’s tricky. In some cases AT collect fares directly (i.e ticket machines o train platforms) but if I want to travel by bus and then train, then I’ll pay for my whole fare on the bus. This means that the Operator collects it and then passes it on to AT, but in return AT will pay them a fee for operating the service (which will be negotiated in advance). Otherwise it is unfair if the bus company collect my entire fare and the train operator nothing. For that reason ferries need to be part of the PTOM in order to get integrated.

      1. Ferry business is as ‘private sector’ as that of bus companies so why wont they sign up? I guess its because they make more money by not signing up to anything save an integrated ticketing agreement that still gets them the full share of ‘their’ revenue. One would have thought though that the ferry companies would make enough money from being part of an integrated fare scheme, if they manage their OPEX well. Currently their high fares are a turn-off to passengers even when there is a good bus feeder service. Ferry companies really need to look at the most effective ways to increase patronage and track OPEX with that to keep fare offerings to the general commuting public at an more affordable level.

        1. There is little point including tourist routes like Rangitoto and Tiritiri Matangi in the integrated fares structure. But definitely commuter routes like North Shore, Half Moon Bay and Waiheke Island.

  5. I would like to see the free travel for Gold Card holders reduced to something like half-priced ferry tickets. The Gold card subsidy spent on ferries is really a luxury not a necessity (ie ferry to Waiheke).

    1. Publius, I bet you a friend’s PhD thesis there are actual pensioners on Waiheke, and they rely on the ferries to get out of Waiheke and engage with the city as much as anyone.

      1. It’d be better if the service was an AT service part of the PTOM. In that way, it’s a fixed fee for the ferry operator and AT get the money for SuperGold which is more fair. Free travel should remain, but Fullers shouldn’t be profiting extra out of carrying senior citizens.

  6. Onehunga to Airport?? (I am only half joking)

    Or, (maybe too tidal?), a wharf at Jutland Rd (Hauraki). Not a big catchment, but would take a bit of pressure off roads and buses.

  7. I think feeder services are crucial to ferries as well. For example, the 589 bus from Beachlands to Maraetai is not timed to meet ferry sailings (and runs only a couple of times a day), when it good be an excellent service to connect people to the ferry.

  8. Sealink are being pretty disingenuous by saying that we should invest in ferries because they provide a better return on costs. If they want to expand their network, then they’re more than welcome to buy some new passenger ferries and run a commercial network and provide some competition to Fullers. All they’re doing here is just asking for the Council to subsidise them more.

    1. I agree, it is a blatant attempt at trying to get more subsidised ferry services as they know that all of the commercial routes are already serviced.

  9. another issue with ferries is that while Park and Rides arent great for rail, they are truly terrible on the waterfront and a total waste of money.
    Devonports carpark at the moment is bad enough. Ferries only good when there is a big shortcut in distance as they are rather slow.
    Thats why Te Atatu Peninsula could work well as avoids a cicuitous route, especially with no motorways for first half.
    All depends on cost of building wharf though.
    With Waiheke Ferry I think those with monthly passes should be part of the integrated system, but casual use is market price.
    This will solve the issues outlined above, giving residents a fair deal.

    1. That is a problem with park & rides. I don’t think there should be a significant expansion of park & ride around ferry terminals. Integrated fares and feeder buses are a much better option.

  10. I’ve also done a bit of research on ferries and just to comment on this. The slow speed of ferries can be overstated. Vessels can be designed to efficient travel in the 12-16kt range, that is up to 30km/h. Since boats are not constrained by roads or other traffic and are point to point that is pretty quick. The biggest hold up is the docking, which again can be addressed by good design. Ditto accessability. Sea sickness shouldn’t be a problem within the enclosed waters of the Waitemata and Manakau harbours. The prevailing weather pattern is westerlies. As I recall, I calculated from weather data the number of days the wind blows from the north and east sufficiently to cause cancellations of exposed services (exposed being, for example, a service up the East Coast bays) at five days PA or so; sloppy conditions outside the harbour might occur for 14 or so days P.A.

    Ferries can handle considerably larger numbers of people than buses, and once the wharfs are built the infrastructure is probably comparable in maintanence costs to land based PT – on a per head basis the fuel cost would be an order of magnitude lower, and of course the cost of road maintenance is zero. Off setting that is the higher safety standards required of sea transport.

    If we were to seriously look at sea based transport, then specialised vessels should be constructed in addition to traditional slow ferries. For example, long, narrow fast ferries with a length to bean ratio of 0f 9:1 or 10:1 and with bus style seating for 120-160 could possibly cruise at up to 18kts using diesel-electric drives.The creation of a canal and dredged channel (along the revealingly named Portage road to the undeveloped land behind Otathuhu intermediate school could link the the two harbours for through services.

    i think the biggest problem with seaborne transport as a serious contender for a major player in PT is psychological. It would require completing turning all the transport planning up to now on it’s head, and a complete change in the focus and way we view the cities landscape.

    1. Yes S, and that head turning is beginning… key change is integrating ticketing but that is resisted by the greedy ferry company. Because as i note above to grow ferry use involves connections from other transit systems as walk up numbers are considerably smaller than are covered their fatuous 3km catchment.

      All transit improvement lifts transit and walking outcomes, but ferries will be left behind without integration.

    2. absolutely agree with that. Being born close to Venice and having been a commuter in Venice few times I can tell you the docking times could be not slower than a bus stopping. Ferries in Venice drop people off sometimes without completely stopping if the passengers are few. Add that to high average speeds, if run efficiently, they could be a strong competitor to buses. But whinging to the council is easier than improving things.

    3. Hi Sanctuary. I agree with your comment. Docking doesn’t have to be too much of a problem. Shuttle ferries like the Kea are quite slow, but in outer areas we can easily have ferries doing 20 knots +. The Pine Harbour Ferry example would be faster than a car in even the lightest of traffic – just needs some feeder buses and a better frequency.

  11. some of your comments may be reasonable but linking the two harbours is clearly insane. Dredging the harbour through would have terrible environmental effects. Yes a stream exits halfway across the isthumus but it is far too narrow for boats to run on.
    However would still need a brand new canal 1.3km long, demolishing a fair few houses and industrial buildings along the way.
    The would have to cross the railyard with is 25 or so tracks. Of course another big issue is the tides are opposed by 9 hours, so this would cause some nasty issues with the flow and erosion in the canal.

    Surely the biggest issue with the ferries is the OPEX is quite high, especially compared to buses. So would have to have high patronage compared to a bus run, caused by big drop in journey. True of Hobsonville, but definitely not St Heliers.

    1. Indeed, I’ve heard the figure that ferries are around seven times more expensive to operate per km than a bus. So for a ferry to stack up you need either enough demand to fill seven buses in one go, a route that is only one seventh as short as the bus alternative, or somewhere in between.

      In the case of Devonport, a bus alternative would be five times as long, and there is obviously quite high demands so it certainly stacks up. Beachaven, I’m not so sure.

    2. @ Luke, I certainly didn’t advocate linking the two harbours – that would be a slow way to travel…

      OPEX can’t be that high. Ferries don’t use all that much fuel and carry far more people. Surely another factor is time as well given that the buses get held up in traffic which increase the competitiveness of ferries.

      1. The number of people carried doesn’t affect the opex. That was my point about the “seven times the patronage”, the cost per passenger can be very low if you can fill up a big boat on each sailing, but horrendous if you cant.

        1. In any case, CAPEX would be fairly low compared to rail because you have a free corridor. So there are definitely merits for running ferries, but that doesn’t change the case for improving rail and bus systems. In fact they complement each other perfectly.

  12. If you can get access to old ARTA / ARC documents you will find the proposed ferry wharf location for Te Atatu was at the end of Bridge Avenue, which is south of the motorway. Given the speed restrictions of 5 knots in the narrow channels and Meloa Reef it probably means you could run to the city faster. Essentially it was a political sop.

    If you look at the google earth image and the tidal charts it would show that it would not be practical to site a ferry wharf at the location you have shown. You need about 2m of water at low tide to be able to safely operate a ferry. Probably the only practical place for a ferry terminal in Te Atatu north of the motorway would be at the end of Wharf Road. The journey time from this location would be at least another 10 minutes longer than the service from West Harbour.

    Te Atatu Peninsula would be served better by investing money in providing bus priority lanes on Te Atatu Road on both side of the motorway interchange so that the buses are able to by-pass the congestion on Te Atatu Road to get to the motorway.

    The operating cost of ferries are very high, I have heard it is somewhere between 5 and 10 times that of a bus. Essentially you have to move a vessel that is heavier than a bus which is subject to more friction, therefore you need a bigger more powerful motor which burns more fuel. The crewing cost are also more, as you require 2 crew member if the vessel is able to carry over 49 people. The Annual survey requirements are also lot more onerous and costly as compared to mataining a bus in good condition.

    Another concern with ferries is that I think none of the existing ferry fleet meet the latest EURO emission standards. The new buses in the fleet are EURO 5 standard whereas I doubt there are any ferries operating in the harbour which would meet any of the EURO standards. It would be interesting to know the emmision ratings of the ferries in the Auckland fleet.

  13. Ferries are generally displacement vessel which basically push a hole through the water. Water is much thicker than air.and moving that hole through water takes a lot more energy than moving a bus through the air and even more than a train on steel wheels on steel rails, which don’t have to waste energy in flexing rubber tyres.

    Overall the energy saving of getting people out of cars and onto ferries is generally about zero and may be negative.

    Ferries generally use diesel which is imported and produce CO2 and smoke, electric trains in New Zealand are running on energy generated from sustainable sources in this country. The use of thick bunker fuel by ferries shouldn’t even be thought about. That stuff is disgusting!

    Electric trains are by far the most efficient way of moving people.

    If PT choices are between trains or ferries, lets leave the water alone.

    Ferries are generally fun to ride on, can create PT links over water barriers and make a sea-front city interesting to look at but we must look at ferry company claims with care

    1. Just read your comments about Ferries being inferior to Electric Trains … and with the greatest of respect, you are living in the 70s. Modern Fast ferries do not have Displacement Hulls. They are built with Planing Hulls so they leave less of a footprint and can achieve greater speeds and use less fuel. Also, the ‘Bunker Fuel’ you refer to is not used by Ferries. They use the same Diesel that cars and trucks use. I drive them by the way to you can trust me.

  14. Just a comment about docking. Venice has a ferry service run rather like a bus service with two-man operation. The ferries can stop, unload and load ten or so people and be off from any of the stops in about the same time or less than it takes to let a similar number of people on and off a bus. The trick is to have floating pontoons with bollards designed for the deck-hand to throw a half-hitch around as the boat pulls along-side, which stops the boat which is then held in position by the tension on the half-hitch and by the idling thrust of the boat’s prop and appropriate rudder position. Let go the rope and the ferry departs.

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