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?

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  1. I’m not usually a fan of on demand transit (thanks to Devonport taxis!) , but I wonder if some app mechanism that allows stops like Herald Island to be served only if needed could be a useful approach here.

    1. Not sure you’d achieve much TBH. They would still need to plan the schedule and the fleet allocation and the staffing to assume it did stop each time, in case it does, so you’d not save anything much by not stopping there. A small amount of fuel perhaps.

      1. Each berthing adds wear and tear to the ferry, too. I suspect you’d get more overall patronage if it’s timetabled because only some people would feel comfortable with planning ahead for on-demand, or with getting a ferry to come just for them. And given the fixed costs that you’ve listed, you’d need more overall patronage to try to recoup them.

        1. Just do what Sydney does with smaller stops on the rivers services. Have a crew member ask who is getting off at that stop and then pull the boat in close enough to see if anyone is on the pier before berthing

  2. Having used both the Hobsonville and Birkenhead ferry on occasions including Birkenhead when the bridge was closed last week and I was “dumped” at Akoranga off the NX1 I have always thought that there could be a much improved off-peak service by running to Hobsonville Point via Northcote and Birkenhead. Birkenhead wharf has a berth on the outside of the terminal which can be used as long as there is not a heavy westerly wind meaning the ferry stopping there doesn’t need to do any backing up to the pontoon. And last Tuesday as we stood in a long queue for the 0805 at Birkenhead, knowing we would not all get on, we saw the West Harbour ferry go racing past, probably with plenty of room for some of those waiting. We could have a great ferry service on the upper harbour, a bit like Sydney, with just a little bit of thought. And yes, Greenhithe should be a possibility as it is a difficult suburb to commute from, especially by public transport.

  3. Because the ferries stop times are so long I’m not sure adding more stops is so ideal. I was wondering if it’d just be faster for those Greenhithe people to cycle to the current Hobsonville ferry terminal. Currently it’d take 25 minutes for 6.4km, so no. But with some obvious route improvements that could be taken down to about 15 minutes or 3.5km which quickly starts to make more sense

    1. Well that’s the trade off. In some cases it’s not problem, taking the boat further to Greenhithe doesn’t slow down anyone catching it further in.

      But stopping the Hobsonville ferry at Birkenhead and Northcote would take more time, in exchange for better efficiency. So the real question is would the people of Hobsonville be happy with a ferry that is five or six minutes longer, if it meant they got twice as many sailings a day?

  4. The catamarans on the Brisbane river are fun but they have their public transport and car transport under much better control. My opinion. My most memorable ferry ride was between Karakoy and Kadikoy across the Bosphorus. Kadikoy has a tram running on its main drag which connects with the ferry and street stalls really buzzy but then 2000 years of history will do that for you. Plenty of cars and motorbikes and pedestrian spaces but some how they seem to all fit in. Real energy compared to Auckland.

  5. This has long been a ‘what would I do if I ran AT Metro’ project for me. It would make the ferry network much more useful at relatively low cost and you would be much more likely to get journeys going both ways. I’d skip Herald Island though.

    1. I wonder if it would make sense to have a short but frequent ferry ride between Beach Haven and Hobsonville Point, with a connection by bus on both ends. That would make Hobsonville Point only a relatively short PT trip away for much of Kaipātiki.

      1. By allowing people to get between Greenhithe, Hobsonville, Birkenhead, Northcote and catch connecting buses without a detour to the city centre. It would also make the Upper Harbour services much more frequent which is obviously more useful.

  6. Extra stops even if very close to the direct route are perhaps a bit slower than you would think with slowing down speeding up and birthing etc so too many could make things too slow compared to now but for areas on currently none existent services they wouldn’t notice. With the big increasing Hobsonville patronage it wouldn’t matter so much being further down the line but it might be better to alternate all stops and express to city with the West Harbour route. Perhaps that’s too complicated for users though.

      1. This only happens on the Waiheke ferry and it doesn’t delay anything. It’s berthing that slows ferries down.

  7. Greenhithe and Herald ferry stops? No way.

    1. The patronage will be tiny. Beach Haven has a larger and denser catchment than Greenhithe and yet (anecdotally) the ferry draws fewer than 10 passengers per run at peak, vs 150+ for Hobsonville. The ferry works for Hobsonville due to the dense catchment, which is continuing to increase in density as Scott Point and the Airfields development ramp up

    2. It’s a short distance from Hobsonville to Greenhithe but the ferry is restricted to 5 knots (9 km/h). 1.6km from Hobsonville to Herald island will take 11 minutes; and an extra 5 minutes for the 750m from Herald to Greenhithe. So that’s more than half an hour plus time for berthing to make two extra stops.

    Herald and Greenhithe are better served by the rapid bus solution for the Upper Harbour motorway SH18. And with a stop at Squadron Drive, you’d also have a rapid alternative for Hobsonville.

    1. Beach Haven ferry wharf has practically zero catchment, it’s on the end of a little peninsula away from everyone. I don’t think thats actually much of a factor. Beach Haven also has relatively quick and direct bus and car trips to downtown.

      Greenhithe on the other hand has abysmal buses and long and congested car trips to the city centre. 20km by road, 14km by sea. You’d need to sort out access to the ferry at Greenhithe, but once there it would provide a very competitive option for people going to the central city.

    2. Beach Haven patronage would be helped by having buses connecting with the ferry services. And also by return trips between Beach Haven and Hobsonville through the day, which a City – Birkenhead – Beach Haven – Hobsonville service might enable. Reliable capacity and service times for Hobsonville should give a better service, with feeder services connecting to them (as they do at Birkenhead).
      Busway service between Westgate and Constellation is still some way off, but the best prospect for Herald Island and Greenhithe residents.

      1. If extending to Greenhithe, there would be a 30 min additional time between arrivals and departures for the City at Hobsonville.
        This may not work well for bus connections at Hobsonville, especially as the bus stops will be moved to tuck away behind new buildings, so buses will not be very close to ferries, nor within line of sight.
        Part of the ferry service question is the connection by bus to ferry.

        1. Not necessarily, the ferry continuing on to Herald Island, Greenhithe, then back to Herald Island and Hobsonville sounds like it would fill that 30 minutes quite nicely.

          So one direction at Hobsonville arrives just after the other direction departs, works fine for the buses.

  8. if i recall – Waiheke was a sleepy, cheapy hard/slow to get to destination. Fast ferries turned it into another suburb. Build it and they will come. I would like to know the name of the person or who separated the Onehunga rail-head from the port by 500m. Genius. Onehunga/Cornwallis/ClarksBeach/Waiuku Bringit!

  9. The wharf at Greenhithe isn’t very well located for public transport services. A 400m long walking bridge could connect Rahui Road in Greenhithe with Herald Island which could then have a ferry pier right in the middle. You would have one ferry wharf serving both with a much better catchment on the Greenhithe side. Of course all the current freeloaders using public space for their boats would have to relocate.

    1. Time for them to get a trailer sailer instead, yeah, and park it on that other public space – the road. If enough of them do it, two things might happen:

      1/ The current freeloaders might not be able to park their cars there.
      2/ Parking enforcement might actually happen. That’d be fun to see. To protect drivers’ ‘rights’, AT might even do it proactively – despite that being against policy.

      1. A 400m bridge to Herald Island would be a great place to fish from. They wouldn’t need a boat. Most of those boats are barely used anyway. They are just fouling the seabed with their toxic paint.

    2. A spite wharf… What do have against boaties?

      I think the ferries are too slow, infrequent and expensive. How about getting that SH18 busway started?

      1. Right! miffy seems to really have a thing against yachties specifically. Freeloaders using public space sure, but that’s the point of public space, should I be charged to walk down queens street? public space, not paying anything for it same argument. If the space could be much utilised by the public than whoever uses it currently (eg parking or driving in certain areas) then sure totally support the idea but there should at least be a little hey sorry this is for the greater good involved. Rather than a “f*ck you leave”. I personally owned a yacht similar to the ones up there, cost less than a late 90s used car. I was planning on living on it, until I realised that it’d actually be fairly inconvenient (bad PT in that area) and a solitary life. But the dream remains alive, one day. Much cheaper to buy (and probably maintain) than a house in Auckland, just a tad inconvenient and I’d be afraid a miffy might come along and snip my anchor chain (jk 😉 ). I get that yachts aren’t ideal, and can get abandoned / be eyesores among other issues, but there is a dream and romanticism associated with them that is being lost on a lot of people unfortunately. You should read some classics like “south sea vagabonds“ or “swirly world”, some stuff has aged poorly, but the idea is very cool. The ultimate freeloader and the ultimate freedom.

      2. Side note, I agree ferries are too infrequent and expensive. But that’s not an issue with the mode, more the business model and commitment by AT. With the upgraded ferry terminal hopefully they will take advantage of the opportunity to run more services fully. And I believe there is an issue with past contracts with fullers that’s providing a bit of a spanner in the works. The fact they can carry so many people is a bit of a blessing and a curse. You only need to run infrequent services which makes it all less convenient. Hopefully with the demand being provided by hosonville re-development for example there will be enough, like Waiheke, to provide a more economical, convenient service. The speed is not so much an issue, currently 1/2 an hour from hobsonville point to britomart, due to the shorter distance. Which I think is perfectly reasonable.

  10. “You’d need to sort out access to the ferry at Greenhithe”

    SOLUTION: Build a 10 story parking building at Greenhithe. Lease it to the nice people at Wilson Parking.

  11. Maybe Herald Island could be included just on the off-peak direction – so Herald Island commuters still get a service but they have to go via Greenhithe, and Greenhithe commuters don’t have to stop at Herald Island – on the assumption that there’s sufficient difference in ridership at the two communities to be able to overtly prioritise Greenhithe commuters over Herald Island commuters like this.

    I realise a downside might be that if you’re wanting to go between Herald Island and Greenhithe you’ll sometimes be able to go directly, and sometimes you’ll have to transfer at Hobsonville Point, but this might not affect too many people.

    1. Another option would be to have a much smaller boat doing a 4 stop loop in the upper harbour timed to connect with the mainline running Hobsonville, Birkenhead, Northcote Point, Britomart. Then the upper harbour stops could also be served by a boat with a single crew. You may even be able to do special sailings to Riverhead.

  12. Looks good. We need to invest in fast boarding ferries. Like Amsterdam’s. Unfortunately the NPS-UD doesnt include ferries in its rapid transit definition, otherwise we could get some upzoning to go with this.

  13. I live in Greenhithe and would absolutely take the ferry to the city each day if that was available.

    Also, we used to have a bus that went directly from Greenhithe to Briotmart which I used to take but now that it stops at Constellation and it is a struggle to get on the NX1 or NX2, I not longer take this and drive.

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