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It seems so simple from the point of view of the passenger. The passenger wants a reliable bus service to take him or her to the ferry wharf with just a short wait before the connecting ferry departs. And on return, after disembarking the ferry, a bus should be waiting at the wharf to complete the journey home.
Sydney's geography means the ferry to bus connection is usually more critical than bus to ferry. The bus journey to a ferry wharf is often down a steep incline. More often than not, passengers are willing to stroll down a hill to the wharf, but are reluctant to walk back up. That's why the transfer from ferry to bus is more important.
It is also more complicated for a passenger to mentally juggle two schedules - "Which is the best bus to catch for me to make a convenient connection with the ferry? Should I assume the bus will be on time or do I allow for an extra five or 10 minutes in case the bus is late? What the hell, I'll just walk to the wharf".
The decision is simpler when disembarking the ferry. The bus is either waiting at the wharf or it's not.
Providing passengers with what they want is not so easy.
Part of the problem is an issue of detail - exactly how long should be scheduled for a transfer wait?
Take the example of the new timetable for buses terminating at Balmain East Wharf, which takes effect from Sunday 2 December. The network has been simplified by operating a single line - the 442 bus - between the Queen Victoria Building and Balmain East. Daytime on week-days and Saturdays it will run at 10 minute intervals. This is in place of two lines (the 442 and 445 (Balmain East to Campsie)) which each operated at 20 minute intervals.
As a guiding principle, simpler, higher frequency networks are better. Unfortunately, though, the new timetable does not allow enough time for transfers from the ferry to the bus. The ferry from Circular Quay is scheduled to arrive at :00 and :30 minutes past the hour, with the "connecting bus" scheduled to leave at :03 and 0:33 minutes past the hour. The walk from ferry to bus stop is 105 metres, including steps, and takes between 90 seconds and two minutes for less mobile passengers. This leaves almost no buffer for a ferry delay. As the F4 ferry from Circular Quay is usually at least three minutes late (for reasons explained in an earlier post), connections will rarely be made.
This is not such a problem when the 442 bus departs at 10 minute intervals, because it won't be long before the next bus arrives. But bus frequency drops to 30 minute intervals after 8 pm, which means passengers hoping for a transfer from this time are likely to have a very long wait.
There are also some bigger strategic design issues in ferry - bus connections.
Hierarchies are important in network planning. "Hierarchy" is an ugly word, as it implies one part of the system is more important than another, but that is not what is meant. What it really means is that lines serve different functions - for example:
Two modes of public transport serving Balmain East: 442 bus (blue line) and F4 ferry (red line)
Buses connecting to a ferry wharf should be feeder lines to the ferry. But the 442 bus is also an inter-suburban line, because it carries passengers all the way from the Balmain East wharf into Sydney's CBD.
It tries to be both a feeder line and an inter-suburban line at the same time.
In the commuter peaks, the 442 trip from Balmain East to QVB is scheduled to be 28 minutes. The ferry ride from Balmain East to Barangaroo - not that far from QVB - is a 5 minute journey. So for Balmain East residents, the ferry is a more convenient option. Wouldn't it better for the section of the 442 route from Gladstone Park to Balmain East wharf to be simply a dependable feeder bus line to the ferry? Better for a bus to do this well (punctually) than try to compete with the ferry for passengers travelling to the CBD.
There are many other similar cases across Sydney, including the 438 bus from Abbotsford wharf to Martin Place and the 505 bus from Woolwich wharf to Town Hall. The 438 takes up to 68 minutes in the peaks, but the ferry journey is only 26 minutes to Barangaroo or 28 minutes to Circular Quay. The ability of a bus line this long to be a reliable feeder to the ferry wharf is very doubtful.
All of this highlights the importance of viewing Sydney's public transport as an integrated system, not independent operations, and for more attention to be given to improving connections between the component parts. The bus timetable changes to be implemented this week-end suggest Sydney is still not quite there yet.
This article first appeared on sydneyferry.blogspot.com
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