I hate to say I told you so, and I hate even more to see enthusiasm and investment defeated, but it’s looking that way with the Wyndham to Docklands ferry.
Just to recap here’s the deal:
- The ferry departs Wyndham Harbour at Werribee South, headed for Docklands in the morning, and back in the evening.
- One morning departure at 6:40am, one evening departure at 5:40pm.
- The ferry trip is scheduled to take 74 minutes. They’d like to speed this up if possible.
- The ferry fare during the trial period is $13 one way, or $20 return.
The ferry might be a comfortable ride, with a guaranteed seat, but if you’re going to abandon your car for public transport, it also needs to provide a combination of convenience, speed and affordability.
One departure per day each way, going to Docklands (a fair way from most CBD jobs) is only going to suit so many people — those whose timetables exactly match the ferry times, and are guaranteed never to be running late, or needing to go home early.
They may or may not consider the train to be a competitor, but it’s hard to ignore it. The train is twice as fast (from Werribee to Southern Cross in about 35 minutes; obviously longer if coming from near the ferry terminal), the train fare is about a third the cost of the ferry, and there are departures every 10 minutes in peak, and every 20 minutes most of the rest of the day. 64 departures per weekday.
Even if — as the operators hope — the ferry is sped up by 15 minutes, taking about an hour, for many people it doesn’t resolve the issue of a single fixed departure time, though it might enable a second departure each peak (two hours later).
Perhaps they’re trying to mimic Sydney’s Manly Fast Ferry — a privately run premium service (costing up to $8.80 each way). But their ferries depart up to every 10 minutes in peak, and critically, Sydney’s geography is such that both the fast ferry (19 minutes) and even the slower government ferries (30 minutes) can easily beat the same trip by car (up to an hour), bus or train at peak times.
Geography is really the key to why Sydney has so many commuter ferry routes, and also to why Melbourne doesn’t. There are few if any Melbourne trips by water that are time-competitive with land modes, AND there are no major ferry terminals immediately adjacent to business districts where large numbers of people actually work. The latter may change eventually with Docklands development, but the time issue is likely to remain.
So how did the Wyndham ferry go in the first week?
On day one they apparently had 57 passengers… though about half of these were said to be officials or staff.
By Wednesday, it was being reported there were only seven passengers on board.
They’re giving it a red hot go, and I wish them luck. In fact from next Monday, there are additional services during off-peak periods, making a total of two round trips per day (including weekends).
Maybe off-peak trips will appeal to tourists. Is there much to see at Wyndham Harbour and the vicinity? Enough to keep people occupied for five hours waiting for the ferry back?
But with still only one trip each peak, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be a success in terms of commuters.
Like SuitJet (the premium commuter coach service) which failed last year only a week or two into their trial, they’ve provided comfort at a premium fare, but they’ve ignored affordability, speed, and the basic utility of mainstream public transport.
Melbourne’s trains might often be packed, and sometimes unreliable, but the fares are cheap, they go where a lot of people want to go, and for the most part the timetables give you the flexibility to travel more-or-less when you want.
If public transport can’t offer that, it won’t entice people out of cars.
- 3AW: Melbourne’s Wyndham Explorer ferry gets off to sluggish start
- Related: 25 things millennials actually want from the MTA before USB ports on buses — like reliable, frequent services
- PTUA Myth: Trains and trams are obsolete and should be replaced with Maglev / Light Rail / Monorails / Trolley buses / this year’s trendy technology — the page formatting is a bit broken at present, but the text is all there.
Update 10/6/2016: Looks like the ferry is in trouble: Free travel on Wyndham Harbour-Docklands ferry on June 10 as Port Phillip Ferries struggle to fill seats