NRMA will continue to operate the Manly Fast Ferry for at least another 15 years, NSW Minister for Transport, David Elliot revealed during a press conference at Manly Wharf earlier this month. The minister also confirmed opal card gates would be introduced at the wharf and additional commuter services added from mid-2023.
But as commuters return to city-based work, many readers continue to wonder – and query with us – when will the Manly to Darling Harbour service, which includes a stop to Pyrmont, resume?
No plans yet, NRMA Chief Operating Officer Marine, Nigel Ellsmore confirmed with us this week.
“Demand for the Pyrmont Service was heavily impact by COVID and has not recovered,” he said. “Manly Fast Ferry is still committed to providing a viable service to the community and we will monitor demand levels as more people return to work.
When asked the benefit of the opal card gates when opal was already accepted on the service since 2018, the CEO explained: “While commuters can pay with their Opal Card the new agreement will ensure the Opal Card system will be fully integrated into our services by the end of this year. This will mean fares will come into line with Government-run services and trips will be incorporated into commuter weekly cap levels.”
What happened to the Manly to Darling Harbour Ferry service?
The commuter service used to run in the morning and evening peaks, stopping at McMahons Point and Pyrmont along the way. Then when COVID hit and CBD commutes halted it was understandably suspended. But as people were required to return to work, locals who relied on it were left wondering where their reliable local service was.
We covered this and introduced a survey in mid 2021, which had over 200 responses and 60 comments.
Manly Observer has today submitted this information and all 68 comments to the NRMA team and Manly MP James Griffin for their consideration.
Who does what now?
NRMA took over the running of the Manly Fast Ferry in December 2017, under the new name My Fast Ferries, becoming the sole provider of fast ferry commuter services between Circular Quay and Manly. The blue and yellow vessels are seperate from the NSW Transport ferries.
Increase in services promised for Manly – CBD
The renewed Manly-City fast-ferry contract bodes well for the regular service, however. It provides for an increase in vessels during peak periods, which currently operates at one ferry every twenty minutes between 6am and 8pm on weekdays and weekends. (A slightly longer wait of a ferry every 30 minutes occurs between 9.00am-12.10pm and 6.50pm-7.20pm on weekends).
James Griffin revealed, “The ramping-up of services during peak periods by the middle of next year also means commuters will be able to get to their destination faster, with a Manly Fast Ferry operating every 10 minutes.”
NRMA’s CEO of Expeditions, Rachel Wiseman, welcomed the renewed 15-year contract for the My Fast Ferry operations.
“We are pleased that this long-standing partnership with the NSW Government will continue to deliver for Sydney and in particular Northern Beaches residents,” she said. “We know the residents of Manly and the Northern Beaches place a lot of value in this service and we also understand how important it is to opening up the Northern Beaches to tourists…”
Opal gates to be installed
In January 2018, the Opal smartcard ticketing system – used to pay for travel on public transport in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, the Hunter and the Illawarra – was also accepted on the Manly Fast Ferries (which administer their own My Fast Ferry Smartcard).
However, electronic gates for Opal swipe access will now be installed on Manly Wharf and Circular Quay during 2023 to further facilitate this automated service. Gates will enable significantly faster commuter transitions between shore and vessels.
James Griffin praised the improved system. “People want travel options and fare savings and Opal connectivity will deliver this,” he said.
Greener options in the pipeline
The My Fast Ferries fleet consists of nine vessels, which are also utilised for whale-watching, sight-seeing and special event harbour cruises, including weddings, live music, private parties, New Year’s Eve fireworks, Australia Day celebrations and the annual Vivid Festival of Lights.
In the coming years the operators plan to introduce hybrid engines fuelled by a combination of marine diesel and hydrogen, as well as investigate options for electric-powered vessels.
NSW Environment Minister and Manly MP James Griffin said “[this] also ensures the fleet will become more environmentally friendly, with the Ocean Class vessels progressively converted to operate with a mix of diesel and hydrogen power and other on-board technological improvements over the life of the contract.
“The deal will be a driving force as we work towards our goal of net zero emissions by 2050 across the transport sector.”
However, Independent challenger Joeline Hackman referenced this piece calling hydrogen a poor choice, instead calling for electrification of the fleets.
Franchise, not technically privatised
Manly Fast Ferries are part of a franchised system, owned and regulated by the NSW Government.
According to the Tourism and Transport Report of October 2009, “the franchisee is the operator and maintainer of the operation, responsible for: Day‐to‐day operations; Customer service; Staff management; Developing timetables; Maintaining vehicles, wharves, and infrastructure; and Marketing services.
“The Government is responsible for: Funding upgrades; Long term planning and major capital projects; Approving timetable changes; Regulating and setting fares; and Monitoring performance.”
Freshwater Ferry supporters want assurances
Northern Beaches Councillor Candy Bingham, who championed retaining the Freshwater ferries (which NSW Transport originally planned to retire; their reintroduction to regular service proving a popular decision), and was critical of the new Emerald Class generation II ferries (which continue to experience steering failures and other problems) told Manly Observer she had some criticisms linked to the lease extension for the Manly Fast Ferry.
“The recent announcement by the State Government to award the NRMA the ongoing contract to operate the fast ferry service is a good one,” she said. “They are a proven operator with a very professional service.
“The issue, however, is that once again the NSW Government is only focusing on the commuter service and Manly’s iconic ferry trip, enjoyed by millions every year, doesn’t seem to be in the mix.”
However, she asked: “What is to become of the troubled Emerald Class ferries and will they will be removed from the F1 Route altogether? They have proven to be completely inadequate in handling the swells and should be deployed to inner harbour services only.
“Manly cannot afford to lose its world-recognised ferry trip. We need a Manly Ferry, not just a ferry that goes to Manly. The Government needs to work on a 5 year plan which retains the classic Freshwater Ferries until a fully-electric look-alike classic ferry can be commissioned for this famous tourist trip.”
Locally designed and built ferries for the future?
Campaign group Save the Manly Ferry added that Sydney needed longer-term wholistic solutions, that planned beyond faster ferry journeys.
A spokesperson told Manly Observer, “The Manly to Circular Quay run has always had a fast service option for those who need it. The hydrofoils, the jet-cats and now the Manly Fast Ferry.
“What we don’t need is duplicate 20 minute services, with the Emerald IIs also being touted as capable of doing the run in 20 minutes. Not to mention the cancellations of the Emeralds in adverse weather and repeated maintenance and reliability issues.
“A short term solution that meets the requirements of commuters and tourists is to have the Fast Ferry service for speed and the Freshwater Class for capability and capacity.
“In the long term, we should plan to replace the Freshwaters with locally designed and built, large capacity, double ended, ocean going vessels with electric drive. Save the Manly Ferry have commissioned just such a design.”