Waka Kotahi’s latest current hair-brained idea to enable bikes to be able to get across the harbour shows the organisation is still wedded to a car-first mentality and is still not fit for managing our transport system in the 21st century.
Stuff’s Todd Niall reported yesterday:
Plans for a dedicated cross-harbour ferry service for Auckland cyclists are being readied to go to Transport Minister Michael Wood.
The concept is a fleet of three dedicated Waitematā Harbour ferries, able to carry 40-100 passengers and their bikes on a fast turnaround, 15-minute crossing every 10 minutes in the peak period.
A Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency briefing paper, produced in February, envisaged 1800 cyclists a day by 2028.
The idea is being proposed as an alternative to accommodating walking and cycling on the Harbour Bridge.
It would need terminals at Wynyard Quarter on the city side and Sulphur Beach on the eastern side of the bridge approach at Northcote.
Auckland Transport (AT) is Waka Kotahi’s partner in the plan. In a paper to potential ferry operators, it sought feedback on whether the ferry should be a standalone service or run as part of other passenger routes.
“Modern, electric-powered ferries are considered advantageous. Operations are most likely to be from 6am to 12am daily, on a dedicated shuttle-based frequency,” it said.
We haven’t seen the details, but on the surface there are a number of problems with ferries as a solution, let alone as a proposed substitute for direct access via a lane on the bridge.
Ferries every 10 minutes at peak might sound good, and is better than any other ferry service we currently have, but it is not a pragmatic approach for people actually wanting to ride a bike. Bikes offer exercise, the freedom to travel when you want (including after midnight, and before 6am) and predictable travel times.
If you happen to just miss a ferry, or the ferry you planned to get on turns out to be full, that’s another 10 minutes of waiting time plus the 10-15 minute travel time across. Many people even on analogue bikes could easily cycle over the bridge itself twice in that time.
One detail that’s not reported on is the planned off-peak frequency. It could it drop to one ferry every 20 or every 30 minutes, which would make these issues even worse.
Then there’s the question of the hours of operation. You may assume that not that many people would be out cycling between 12am and 6am, and you’d be right on the numbers – but those can be among the most essential journeys. What happens if you’re a shift worker and wanting to stay healthy and not contribute to emissions – or, a bike is your most affordable form of transport?
Certainly the travel options available to shift workers, including in the health sector (take a look at the overflowing bike cages at our hospitals, which tell you this is a significant off-peak cycle journey) should be top of mind in all transport decisions.
Or what happens if you (or your kid) just bike to one side or other of the bridge for fun, for a night out – to catch a movie, support hospo, enjoy the arts, or catch up with friends – and you just miss the last ferry? (The quiet lanes of the bridge itself would look mighty tempting).
And while 6am sounds early to most of us, it doesn’t allow for the early birds who may have sports or gym or daycare drop-off or other commitments to take care of before starting their working day.
Ferries in Auckland have been particularly unreliable of late, mainly due to ‘operational constraints‘, also known as not having enough staff to operate them. In just the last few days resulted in services being cancelled and sometimes replaced by taxi’s and ubers to:
Birkenhead and Bayswater ferry service replacements
Due to operational constraints, the following Birkenhead & Bayswater ferry services will be replaced by Uber:
13:40 Auckland to Birkenhead
13:55 Birkenhead to Auckland
14:10 Auckland to Bayswater
14:25 Bayswater to Auckland pic.twitter.com/fwOxQnRpZI
— Auckland Transport Travel Alerts (@AT_TravelAlerts) February 22, 2022
These cancellations have even included users having to organise for themselves with ferry companies “if mobility enabled alternative transport is required“. I’ve got no idea what happens to the users of these services if they have their bikes with them as it’s not like buses or taxis are likely to accept them.
These kinds of issues on the bike ferry would only make the issues I mentioned earlier worse.
Even if the timetable and reliability weren’t an issue, then there’s the concerns around capacity.
The last few years, especially pre-covid, have seen our existing ferries heaving with bikes and resulting in some passengers being turned away due to there not being enough space.
At their suggested upper-limit of 100 passengers and with services every 10 minutes, that’s capacity for about 600 people per hour. Anecdotally and even in this COVID impacted world we’re currently in, routes like the NW could easily be approaching that kind of usage at peak times and almost certainly was pre-Covid.
That means this ferry idea could end up a catch-22 situation, if they’re not used enough then those who oppose cycling investment will slam the ferry as a waste of money and call for it to be scaled back or cut entirely. On the other hand, it could go the other way and cyclists will be angry that the ferries are full.
The one thing that is likely to have a big impact here is …..
A huge factor in the level of usage will depend on if we charge a fare for it or not and what that fare is. Essentially, if they plan to charge the normal inner harbour ferry fare of around $5.40 per trip it will almost certainly put a lot of people off using it, resulting in it being labelled a failure.
The alternative would be to have the fares low or even free but would then undermine other parts of the PT system, for example there would bound to be questions from other ferry users as to why this route has low/free fares when other routes don’t.
If it is free or cheap, there may also be capacity issues caused by non-bike users making use of the service and taking up space.
When talking about cost I should also mention that ferries tend to have much higher operational costs than other forms of public transport. Part of that is due to all the fuel they need to burn to move through the water, which will be removed by electrification of the fleet, but the high costs also come from needing multiple staff per ferry.
The solution here isn’t ferries but to reallocate a lane or two on the existing harbour bridge.
The problem with this solution is Waka Kotahi don’t want to do it. The Minister has asked them to conduct a trial but last week we saw they won’t even consider that, instead proposing only an expensive managed event.
Waka Kotahi NZTA is finding the time and money to plan a celebratory bike-ride over Auckland Harbour Bridge
The $700,000 event – scheduled for November – is in place of an actual trial of cycling and walking use, which was asked for by the Transport Minister.
The two east clip-on lanes will be opened to walkers and cyclists one Sunday morning for several hours.
Minister Michael Wood asked Waka Kotahi last year for a trial “over the quiet summer months or a long weekend if it can be done safely”, OIA documents reveal.
The agency responded with its celebratory event plan and stressed in internal documents that “this is not a trial that would set an expectation that further consideration will be given to providing live lane access”.
What is it with officials and events. This is like asking for a local road to be opened to people for a day officials go and organise bouncy castles and clowns etc. instead of just letting businesses and locals communities to organically make use of that space.