Walking and waterborne public transport

Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East

It is often said that every transit user is also a pedestrian. But planners of new transport infrastructure do not always pay enough attention to the walking part of transit journeys. This can lead to dissatisfaction with the overall experience, even if the passenger is happy with other aspects – service frequency, transit speed, cleanliness, smoothness of ride etc.

Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East
Passengers disembarking from an Inner Harbour ferry at Balmain East

Take ferries for example.

Issues with the walk from the passenger’s point of origin to the land adjacent to a wharf are probably the same as they are for any mode. As far as possible, the walking corridor needs to be direct, delays at pedestrian crossings minimised and exposure to heavy road traffic should be avoided.

The last part of the walk to a ferry (or the first part in the case of disembarking passengers) is the transition between land and vessel via a wharf. This may not generally be viewed as a pedestrian issue, but surely it is an arbitrary distinction to treat the movement of passengers onto a vessel, and into their seats for that matter, as something quite separate from the rest of their walking experience.

The good news for Sydney is that wharf infrastructure is steadily being upgraded to comply with standards for disability access. The traditional wooden stepped wharves are becoming a thing of the past.

In Sydney, the ferry/ wharf interface works best for Manly Ferry passengers. The 1,100 capacity Freshwater Class ferries are specially designed for fast passenger exchange. Some of those features include:

  • Clear separation between boarding and disembarking passengers at wharves – egress from the boat is not blocked by crowds waiting to embark. If necessary, disembarkation can all be from the upper deck, while boarding passengers embark via the main deck below.
  • Wide hydraulic gangway ramps prevent the gangways from becoming bottlenecks.
  • Passengers do not need to tap off their Opal cards after disembarkation, thus avoiding a crush at ticket gate barriers. The Manly Ferry is the only mode of public transport in Sydney where this is the case.

The story is not so good for other vessel classes:

  • There is little attempt to create a physical separation of boarding and disembarking passengers, even at Barangaroo, the new western CBD terminal. This is not a problem if numbers are small, but where and when there are crowds, it certainly does adversely affect the passenger experience.
  • There is not a design standard for the vessel/wharf interface in the Inner Harbour and Parramatta River. Depending on which vessel the passenger is boarding, the freeboard (height of deck above water level) may be much higher than the wharf, creating a steep incline for the passenger to negotiate.
  • The design of passageways on the vessel may not facilitate free movement, causing bottlenecks.

These are just a few of the design issues which affect the ferry using pedestrian.  There are many more. Perhaps it is time to give more attention to the experience of pedestrians as public transport users. It may be a surprise how critical this element of design is to making public transport more attractive.

Manly Fast Ferry
Manly Fast Ferry in Sydney Harbour are faster but smaller than the the Freshwater Class Ferries
Pier Wharf Jetty Quay: A Definition
Pier Wharf Jetty Quay: A Definition. Source: Unknown