A few weeks ago Auckland Transport announced a raft of changes to PT services across the region in a bid to save money but also to accommodate growth where it is occurring. This resulted in them cutting many of the often high-cost / relatively low use express services where other options already existed. One of the more significant changes here was that from the end of the year, all Stanley Bay ferry services would stop with AT using the resource to put on more sailings from Hobsonville Point, where the growth in usage is causing capacity constraints.
While looking at the changes it once again reminded me of some of the main issues with ferries. That is they are almost all point to point and focused to/from the city and that many only operate at peak times. Combined these issues mean they’re only really for commuters.
An additional challenge is that ferries are more expensive to operate making it tricky to add more services. Note, on paper ferries have the best ‘farebox recovery’ but that’s distorted by the Devonport and Waiheke services being commercial and if you take those out the numbers will look very different.
Point to point services obviously mean that once you’re onboard it’s relatively fast, which is nice, but I also can’t help but wondering if West Harbour and Hobsonville Point / Beach Haven users would trade a little bit of travel time for more services. To do that we could create an Upper Harbour Ferry Line.
The idea I was thinking of is that we achieve this by having the Hobsonville and West Harbour ferries make a slight diversion to stop at Birkenhead, and Northcote Point once it is open again, on their way to town. Effectively one route with two branches. This would add a bit of travel time as it berths and loads/unloads passengers but the trade-off would be that it frees up the existing Birkenhead ferry to enable more services further up the harbour. Something like this.
Linking up a number of stops along the way with ferries is not uncommon, for example over in Sydney a number of ferry routes do just this – particularly the Parramatta River services.
As a very quick estimation of the impact on costs, currently the combined Stanley Bay, Birkenhead and Hobsonville ferry routes are in service for about 138 hours a week (the number of services each operate multiplied by the travel time). We currently run about 7 services each way to Hobsonville but for the purpose of this I’ve assumed Hobsonville would match the current Birkenhead service of about 24 services each way a weekday. If we also assume that stopping at Birkenhead along the way added about 10 minutes to the existing 30 minute journey, the boats would be in service for about 180 hours a week.
That means all things being equal it would cost about 30% more operate but we could somewhat negated that if the ferries used electric. Wellington currently has an electric ferry under construction capable of carrying 135 passengers and it is due to be completed later this year. At about $4 million it is more expensive than diesel boats but
Savings would be made over time through cheaper running costs. Electric motors required less maintenance than diesel ones and the cost of charging the batteries was up to 60 per cent cheaper than filling up with diesel.
Note it is only saying fuel costs would be 60% cheaper. The total impact would be less than this as I assume there is no change to staffing levels on each boat.
Ideally we’d have a whole fleet of electric ferries covering all routes. This could help in providing a more uniform fleet and be designed in a way that makes it faster to berth at the terminals along the way.
Another part of the AT service changes was also that the 114 bus would no longer serve Herald Island. This would apparently save 5-10 minutes per run and allow the buses to better serve the new residential areas sprouting up around Whenuapai.
However, looking a google maps you can also see that the main channel stays relatively deep past Herald Island and even through to Greenhithe. This raises the question of if we could further extend the Hobsonville branch to these locations – both already have wharves but would need upgrading for passenger service. Probably the biggest issue is that like so many other areas serviceable by ferries in Auckland, there’s not a huge population nearby and so would also need new or changed local bus routes.
A further rough calculation suggests this would add approximately 40 hours of service time to the calculations from earlier, or about 20% greater costs.
So what do you think, an Upper Harbour Ferry Line to Greenhithe?